Sell Sprint, Buy CA Technologies, Trade Alcatel-Lucent

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - With its constant one step forward and two steps back, Sprint Nextel ( S) has become one of those companies that just can't seem to catch a break no matter what it does.

Because of this, I have often felt it to be wise just to stay away from the company. With its earnings release expected Thursday, I think it will be a smart move to play it safe and sell ahead of the report.

Sell Sprint

It goes without saying that in the communications sector dominated by giants AT&T ( T) and Verizon ( VZ), Sprint continues to exemplify "the little engine that can't," especially considering that it has now fallen to fourth behind MetroPCS ( PCS).

Though I remain cautious on Sprint, those with glass-half-full outlooks should be encouraged the company seems to taking some steps in the right direction in hopes of regaining the trust of the market. But the question is, will it pay off?

When discussing Sprint, what continues to catch my attention is it still has negative earnings per share. By contrast, Verizon recently reported a second-quarter profit of $4.29 billion, or 64 cents per share, an increase of 19% from the $3.6 billion it reported in the same period of a year ago.

Not only that, but its revenue grew almost 4% to $28.6 billion, meeting analysts' estimates. The company benefited immensely from rising cellular bills attributable to higher-than-usual data charges. As for this quarter, I'm expecting more of the same from AT&T, which has been considered a safe haven of sorts for a number of years because of its solid market-beating performance.

So what is left for Sprint? Not only are AT&T and Verizon executing to perfection, but new rivals such as MetroPCS are starting to increase market share within the sector. At this point I don't see how Sprint will be able to turn things around absent an acquisition and/or a drastic shift in focus.

Until it can put two consecutive solid quarters together, the stock remains a sell.

Buy CA Technologies

When looking at CA Technologies ( CA) the first thing that I notice is the stock started the year at $20 and then reached as high as $28 and has hardly moved ever since. It now sits just under $27 for a gain of almost 30% on the year.

It is due to report earnings on Thursday and the question is, will that report provide a catalyst to send shares higher?

CA Technologies is one of the largest independent providers of IT management software. Its shares first started to climb after reporting third-quarter earnings that surged 32%. The company also announced plans to raise its annual dividend to $1.

While it can be argued that the surge was due to the announced dividend, its earnings were also very impressive. The company's revenue has been on an uptrend and most recently grew by 10% to $1.2 billion, the second straight quarter of double-digit growth.

With the stock trading at $26 and with a fairly inexpensive price-to-earnings ratio of 13, I would be a buyer ahead of the report on Thursday to add to an existing long-term position. The stock certainly has the potential to reach $30 by year's end, which will represent a premium of 15% above its most recent closing price.

Trade Alcatel-Lucent

It seems the fortunes of once-embattled networking equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU) are starting to take a more favorable turn. Although it is hard to tell of late, the IP and optics business for the company is looking better as well.

Its newest routing platform competes extremely well when compared to similar models from Cisco ( CSCO) as well as Juniper ( JNPR). Depending on whom you ask, you may hear that its model is even superior.

The company is also seeing an uptick in its wireless segment business, and ALU desperately needs this trend to continue. Although the company has shown moderate growth by having forged some good deals with U.S. businesses -- namely the aforementioned AT&T and Verizon -- Alcatel has shown that it is not restricted solely to U.S. business.

It has managed to get contracts from the three major Chinese service providers in China Mobile ( CHL), China Telecom ( CHA) and China Unicom ( CHU). But that has meant very little to the broader market.

With the stock trading close to its 52-week low of $1.14, I think there is a good trade opportunity here to buy on this weakness as it might offer a nice surprise when it reports earnings on Thursday. I don't see this as a recovery play nor as a long-term hold. But for investors looking for quick pop in the range of 10% to 15%, this stock might be a good candidate.

At $1.14 and with a P/E of 1, the market it not betting on much of anything. Nor does anyone suspect that the company can compete long term with Cisco and Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ). So there can only be a surprise to the upside.

That said, considering that the downside should be limited from this level ALU just might be enticing enough on reasonable assumptions to expect a share price north of $2 by the end of the year.

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.