How to Trade This Week's Earnings

MINNEAPOLIS ( Stockpickr) -- I'm thankful for a safe and joyous holiday season, but I'm glad to be back at it. Amateur hour is over. With the market grinding to a near halt on minimal volume last week, the professionals return in full force this week.

The last week of trading was not a complete waste of time. We managed to pick another earnings-trade winner with earnings loser Cal-Maine Foods ( CALM), which we recommended investors sell or avoid. As expected, the large egg company delivered earnings that missed estimates by a wide margin.

The company reported a profit of 67 cents a share vs. an estimate for the period of 72 cents. Shares were down approximately 5% on the news. Noteworthy in the report was the news that rising corn feed expense ate into profit margins.

Investors in Cal-Maine can expect more of the same in 2011. The selling may not stop at current levels.

Related: Rocket Stocks for the Week

Our other two recommendations traded sideways due to a lack of catalyst. I still think Finish Line ( FINL) was unjustly punished after Nike's ( NKE) recent earnings report. Longer-term traders may find profits by holding this position over the next week or two.

Retail sales did not disappoint, but there was no bump in J.C. Penney ( JCP)shares. Investors are probably taking a wait-and-see approach before bidding up prices further.

Such is the current state of the market. Investors received few clues during the last two weeks of trading. A positive bias to stocks resulted in one of the biggest December gains in 20 years. Volumes are likely to increase tepidly as investors make the positions known this first week of January.

I remain concerned over rising input prices, but such concern may be longer term in nature. Right now the bias for stocks is to go higher. That alone may make a contrarian cringe, but it also makes it difficult to fight the tape.

With the end of the fourth quarter, earnings season will begin in earnest during the second week of January. Before we ramp up to a large number of companies reporting results, we have plenty of nuggets to chew on this week. Investors could make money trading these names in advance of results.

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