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Too hard right now. That's why earnings season can get so overwhelming.

Is

American Standard

(ASD)

as good as it looks?

Is

Gannett

(GCI) - Get Report

as bad as it looks?

Was

United Tech

really all that strong?

Was

The New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

better?

How

horrible was

UnitedHealth

(UNH) - Get Report

?

Washington Mutual

(WM) - Get Report

just

stank out loud but the company couldn't have been more upbeat.

CSX

(CSX) - Get Report

looked OK, said business was exceedingly strong.

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

looked light on volume, high on selling price (a la

what Tero wrote) and simply not so hot, but the stock's running. More work needed.

Altria's

(MO) - Get Report

weak, but guidance is better. How the heck can that happen?

The problem with every one of these quarters is that the releases all read exactly the same: better than expected, or record earnings, or really fabulous growth.

Not one of these companies ever says anything disappointing, even when the quarterly results are

very

disappointing. The disinformation about, say,

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

was extraordinary. The

release, the interviews, were all exceedingly upbeat. I sat through a Sue Decker interview on

CNBC

that was extremely bullish and totally wrong. I read through a

Motorola

(MOT)

release and conference call and they are

excited

about how they did? Meanwhile, United Tech is subdued about its performance even as it looked fabulous to me. UnitedHealth squawks how great things are but the growth is anemic.

Washington Mutual's quarter and release were totally emblematic of what makes the moment so difficult,. Here's a company that had no business being upbeat, given the hideous subprime exposure. But it was. And the quarter wasn't a disaster. Yet the stock performed better, on a percentage basis, than any I follow.

CSX had declines in most major businesses but the costs were so under control it didn't matter. Again, a close textual analysis needed to be performed to see what people

really

liked.

All of these reports take hours and hours to figure out. You can't just look at the consensus and look at the number and draw any conclusions. You can't even listen to the questions and answers and make a judgment, as anyone who listened to the United Tech call knows -- that went quite poorly during the Q&A.

So, you can't make solid judgments. They don't hold up to scrutiny. They are too on-the-fly vs. the typical non-earnings period thinking.

I counsel taking a breath and focusing only on the clear blowouts:

Coca-Cola

(KO) - Get Report

,

JPMorgan

(JPM) - Get Report

and American Standard, for instance, and then hope that the market takes them down so you can get in them closer to where they were

before

they had game-changing quarters.

The rest?

Really more of a jumble of short-covering, futures take-up and a sense that things are simply not as bad as expectations would have indicated. And you can abandon stocks that miss the guidance from the fourth quarter. They are as truly bad as the ones that blow away, sizably, the guidance set at the same time.

If you feel overwhelmed right now, you are. Which is why I always say that earnings season is the

hardest

time to make money.

At the time of publication, Cramer was long UnitedHealth Group, Yahoo! and Altria.

Jim Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. To see his personal portfolio and find out what trades Cramer will make before he makes them, sign up for

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