Earnings season is now starting to wind down, with most companies already having reported their quarterly results. But there are still some companies left to report, and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) is about to release its quarterly earnings report. 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.

3-D printing has taken the industrial world by storm, and 3D Systems is on the ground floor of what could be an amazing opportunity. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with 3D Systems over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report next Monday.

Stats on 3D Systems

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.38

Change From Year-Ago EPS

138%

Revenue Estimate

$103.9 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

49%

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

2

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will 3D Systems print out money for shareholders?
Analysts have been cautiously optimistic in their assessment of 3D Systems, keeping their quarterly estimates stable but raising full-year 2013 earnings calls over the past few months by $0.03 per share. The stock has risen by almost 45% since mid-November, although a recent pullback has taken away much more substantial gains.

3-D printing has captured the imagination of innovators, potentially revolutionizing mass production of goods ranging from auto parts to chocolate and cookies. It has also captured investors' attention, with 3D Systems having tripled since its 2011 IPO and with rival Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) having doubled just since last April.

Many investors believe that as a result of speculation, 3D Systems and its peers are overvalued. Most of the attention has come from the consumer side of the business, where 3D Systems has an edge because Stratasys doesn't have a consumer 3-D printer offering. Moreover, with potential uses ranging well beyond consumer goods to include educational opportunities, 3D Systems has a head start in a lucrative part of the business. Still, the recent IPO of ExOne (NASDAQ:XONE) highlights the various traits of 3-D printers, as ExOne's large-scale printers can produce metal objects that are more than 40 cubic feet in size, dwarfing 3D Systems' 12.6-inch length limit on metal items and leaving Stratasys out in the cold without pure-metal production capacity.

In its quarterly report, watch for 3D Systems to explain its strategy for fending off potential competitors like ExOne, MakerBot, and Shapeways, as the industry begins to get more crowded. Being a first-mover has some value, but 3D Systems can't afford to let competing companies get their feet under them. In addition, a company rebuttal to Citron Research's report calling the company a "bubble stock" could help reassure investors of the stock's promise. Finally, it'll be vital to see whether new printer models are seeing the growth that 3D Systems needs to demonstrate in order to justify its lofty valuation.

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Editor’s note: To clarify the disclosure position outlined below, The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems through both our Supernova and Pro real-money premium services. In addition to the shares it owns, our Pro premium service has written a “covered strangle” options position on 3D Systems, agreeing when the trade was set up to buy more shares at a lower price, or to sell existing shares at a higher price – while maintaining the ability to close either obligation any time. Finally, 3D Systems is a recommendation in Stock Advisor, which is not a real-money service.


Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys and has the following options: Short Jan 2014 $55 Calls and Short Jan 2014 $30 Puts on 3D Systems. 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.