2013 is here, and earnings season has already started ramping up. 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, when the news comes, you'll be less likely to make an uninformed, knee-jerk decision.

Let's turn to Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). As the second-worst performer among the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) in 2012, the semiconductor giant and big-data-mining company has taken a lot of criticism for its failure to extend its leadership position in the PC chip market into mobile devices, but it's working hard to remedy that situation. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Intel over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report Thursday afternoon.

Stats on Intel

Analyst EPS Estimate


Change From Year-Ago EPS


Revenue Estimate

$13.76 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue


Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters


Source: Yahoo Finance.

Will Intel beat earnings estimates again?
Analysts have continually underestimated Intel's earnings, with the company beating estimates last quarter by $0.08 per share. Yet that hasn't stopped analysts from pushing down their views of Intel's fourth quarter, with EPS estimates having dropped 17% in the past three months. The stock hasn't reacted badly, though, rising about 2.5% since mid-October.

Fundamentally, the fourth quarter of 2012 was a bad one for companies like Intel, which rely on the PC for much of their revenue. The launch of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 operating system proved to be far less of a catalyst for PC sales than many analysts had hoped, and PC makers that are some of Intel's biggest customers have had to acknowledge that consumers want innovative devices more than the same old desktop computers. So far, Intel hasn't been able to deliver any groundbreaking innovations to reinvigorate the PC space.

But Intel is clearly fighting back in the mobile arena. One of the biggest announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show was its mobile lineup, which includes both high-end quad-core Bay Trail tablet processors and its lower-end Lexington platform. Intel hopes the moves will help it overcome the head start that ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) have enjoyed in the mobile industry.

Investors want to see Intel make solid progress on all fronts. Without signs of new growth, Intel could repeat its dour 2012 performance this year as well.

Click here to add Intel to My Watchlist, which can find all of our Foolish analysis on it and all your other stocks.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.