With hundreds of companies having already reported quarterly results, we're now in the heart of earnings season. The key to making smart investment decisions with stocks releasing their quarter 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 knee-jerk reaction to news that turns out to be exactly the wrong move.

Let's turn to ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). The newly focused oil and gas production giant has seen its stock rise steadily despite some challenges facing the energy industry. Can the company keep up the good work? Let's take an early look at what's been happening with ConocoPhillips over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report on Wednesday.

Stats on ConocoPhillips

Analyst EPS Estimate

$1.42

Change from Year-Ago EPS

(30%)*

Revenue Estimate

$13.31 billion

Change from Year-Ago Revenue

(79%)*

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

3

Source: Yahoo Finance, S&P Capital IQ. * Does not include adjustment for Phillips 66 spinoff.

Will ConocoPhillips start producing for investors?
At first glance, the numbers above suggest a big problem, but the big drop in earnings and revenue comes from the company having spun off its Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) refining and marketing segment last year. Still, Conoco has seen the same trend as many other companies this quarter, with analysts having slightly reduced their earnings-per-share estimates on the oil company over the past three months. The stock has done reasonably well, though, with about a 6% gain since late October.

ConocoPhillips offers an interesting value proposition to investors right now. Even with its massive oil reserves, Conoco's share price doesn't put the same value on those reserves as shares of its competitors. Moreover, with the company jumping into lucrative shale plays, Conoco has value above and beyond its current proven reserves.

Conoco continues to move forward at a fast clip, with plans to spend $15.6 billion in capital expenditures this year. With partnerships with Total (NYSE:TOT) and Cenovus Energy (NYSE:CVE) in the Athabascan oil sands region of northeastern Alberta, Conoco has been taking advantage of oil prices that are high enough to justify the considerable expense of extracting crude from oil sands. It's also working with Total in the North Sea, and exploration of the coast of Malaysia looks promising. Still, the company hasn't been afraid to divest itself of assets, having sold off holdings in the Williston Basin to Denbury Resources (NYSE:DNR) earlier this month for about $1.05 billion.

Investors should look closely at Conoco's results not just for immediate earnings and revenue guidance but also for a better sense of the company's post-spinoff long-term strategy. Now that Conoco is free to focus solely on exploration, it needs to ramp up its game and continue its history of finding lucrative new plays to replace declining production from more mature oilfields.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Total SA. The Motley Fool owns shares of Denbury Resources. 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.