Earnings season is winding down, with most companies already having reported their quarterly results. But there are still some companies left to report, and H&R Block is about to release its quarterly earnings report. The key to making smart investment decisions with stocks releasing their quarterly reports is to anticipate how they'll do before they announce results, leaving you fully prepared to respond quickly to whatever inevitable surprises arise. That way, you'll be less likely to make an uninformed, kneejerk reaction that turns out to be exactly the wrong response to the news.

As a well-known tax preparation company, H&R Block is having its most popular time of the year. But with the company reporting for the quarter before tax season started, should H&R Block investors really give much weight to what it reports this time around? Let's take an early look at what's been happening with H&R Block over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report on Thursday.

Stats on H&R Block

Analyst EPS Estimate

($0.01)

Year-Ago EPS

($0.01)

Revenue Estimate

$564 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

(15%)

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

2


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will H&R Block give investors a refund this quarter?
Analysts have remained secure in their call for the somewhat lackluster quarter that just ended. But they've pushed up their full-year fiscal 2013 estimates by almost $0.40 per share, perhaps in response to new tax laws. The stock has also taken off, rising nearly 45% just since early December.

Much of the gain in the stock could well have come from the big jump in complexity that resulted from the fiscal cliff controversy. Although provisions restoring higher top tax rates for the wealthy kicked in at a fairly high $400,000 for singles and $450,000 for couples, more complex provisions that impose new tax surcharges and phase out deductions and exemptions take effect at lower income levels, creating a hodge-podge of rules for taxpayers to deal with.

Yet H&R Block's biggest problem comes from competition from tax-preparation software maker Intuit , the company behind TurboTax. An interesting trial just began on a lawsuit that H&R Block filed against Intuit. The suit alleges that a TurboTax ad implies that H&R Block's tax preparers don't have training or professional skills, and it asks for an injunction against further advertising. Intuit expects to present its defense today.

In its quarterly report, watch for signs of how H&R Block's tax software package is performing compared to its live, in-store services. With TurboTax having ruled the software niche, H&R Block's success likely relies on people needing face-to-face assistance. If H&R Block can't grow that part of its business, it could spell trouble for the remainder of tax season.

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The article H&R Block Earnings: An Early Look originally appeared on Fool.com.

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