What happened

When a CEO is spied heading for the exits right before earnings, that's rarely good news for investors. That generalization proved accurate today, after power equipment maker Babcock & Wilcox (NYSE:BW) reported its fiscal Q4 2017 earnings -- and saw its stock crushed in response.

As of 11 a.m. EST, Babcock stock was down 19.2% after falling as far as 29% earlier in the day.

A power factory with smokes coming out of three smokestacks.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Last night, Babcock & Wilcox reported that it lost $2.44 per share in Q4 2017, even worse than last year's $1.47 per share loss. This was a much worse result than the $0.06 per share loss that Wall Street analysts had predicted. Babcock blamed the effects of tax reform for about $1.42 of its loss. But even without that charge to earnings, the stock would have lost more than $1 a share -- hardly a good result.

Sales grew 7% in the quarter to $408.1 million -- one of the few bright spots in a bleak report.

For the year, Babcock reported sales of $1.6 billion and an $8.09 per share loss.

Now what

Babcock & Wilcox is having a tough 2018, but things could be worse. Issuing new guidance for the year, management predicted that revenues should range between $1.5 billion (down year over year) and $1.7 billion (which would be an improvement).

Management did not give any clear GAAP guidance for earnings, which may be adding to investors' dismay today.

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.