Whether there was a target set by the company's own management, by Wall Street analysts, or by the market at large, these three companies just didn't live up to Mr. Market's expectations last week. An earnings miss can have serious consequences, and share prices for this week's underperformers took a serious slide. Sometimes an earnings stumble is a signal to sell, but digging in the dirt is also a good way to find turnaround candidates while they're getting beaten down. And don't forget that April is National Poetry Month! Today, the words of the prophets are written in lasered silicon and doughnut holes -- and echoed in a second batch of silicon.

We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.

            -- "Ulalume," Edgar Allen Poe

Our first miscreant this week is Electro Scientific Industries (NASDAQ:ESIO), a maker of manufacturing equipment for builders of electronics. The plucky small-cap had the gall to miss Wall Street's earnings estimates by an entire penny, on 6% higher sales year-over-year.

The share price dove nearly 4% in after-hours trading, and it looked like the recent price rally would stop there. But instead, serious investors digested the whole report overnight, and the climb resumed undeterred. All told, the stock climbed more than 8% higher last week.

It probably helped that activist shareholder David Nierenberg, who holds 11.8% of the company's shares and who has been critical of management in the past, immediately used an SEC 13-D form to express his satisfaction in the earnings announcement and related items. Specifically, a $50 million share buyback program boosted David's confidence in the management team, as it was a measure he had himself proposed.

Nierenberg had threatened to run his own slate of directors against the current board, but has now dropped any such designs. The company is thus free to develop its fiber lasers and other silicon wafer repair machinery without having to worry about replacing the entire board. And we all know how much the market hates uncertainty and loves security. With capable competitors like NEC (NASDAQ:NIPNY) and Entegris (NASDAQ:ENTG), Electro Scientific certainly doesn't want to be shackled by shareholder pressures. Sometimes it's best to give in a little bit.

Is there anything they
Can't do?

            -- "Marge vs. the Monorail," Homer

That's not the Greek Homer, in case you weren't quite sure. But if I'm going to talk about Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (NYSE:KKD), I have to draw from the rich oeuvre of Homer Simpson to set the tone.

The company is here because its just-reported $0.39 loss per share underwhelmed the analysts, who had been jonesing for $0.01 of earnings per share. Included in the loss were $16 million in charges for the settlement of a securities class action litigation and a $2.1 million provision for franchisees' accounts. On the plus side, it's a much better showing than the adjusted $0.61 loss per share a year ago. And the fact that Krispy Kreme is up to date with financial restatements and filings goes down like a glazed one under the red "hot donuts now" sign.

Still, this is not the second coming of McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), nor of its offshoot Chipotle (NYSE:CMG). Krispy Kreme is a turnaround story long in the making, and still far from completion.

Management says that it is finding some stability in the doughnut market, with a new product pipeline in the works and growth plans outside North America. Yes, the company is still closing a lot of stores -- but the new stores in this quarter were twice as numerous as the closings.

I bought into the turnaround story some two years ago, only to see the bottom falling out of the stock. The share price is now just about back to my original buy-in price -- too bad I sold out over a year ago, when the aforementioned restatements were dragged out, with debtors knocking on the door and the company's future anything but certain.

It looks a good deal better today, but it's up to you to decide whether the recent streak of good fortune will continue. Me, I'll just say "D'oh!"

I cannot tell how this may be,
But plain it is, the thorn is bound
With heavy tufts of moss, that strive
To drag it to the ground.
And this I know, full many a time,
When she was on the mountain high,
By day, and in the silent night,
When all the stars shone clear and bright,
That I have heard her cry,
"Oh misery! oh misery!
"O woe is me! oh misery!"

            -- "The Thorn," William Wordsworth

Our final stanza of woe comes from another electronics manufacturing outfit named Keithley Instruments (NYSE:KEI). This maker of electronics testing equipment said that its upcoming earnings report wouldn't measure up to management's original guidance, as Keithley's wireless communications customers were tightening their capital expenditure purses a bit in these uncertain market conditions.

The new sales guidance is about $33 million, down from a $37 million to $41 million range. This will lead to a $2.5 million to $3 million pre-tax loss, and management is clamping down on new hires, discretionary spending, and other operational cost centers. The stock price dropped a dizzying 16% the day after this announcement.

The full earnings report is due out in about two weeks, so we'll have to wait a fortnight for the full picture. In the meantime, it must hurt to be a Keithley shareholder in times like these, but there should be some comfort in the fact that you're still up better than 22% over the 52-week lows of last summer. Electronics and high-end cell phones will be back in style someday -- though there's no telling exactly when -- so don't lose heart, but try not to gamble in short-term Keithley options, either.

Each man must be
Moderately wise
But not too wise

            -- "Havamal," from the Poetic Edda of Viking culture

Some of these underperformers are victims of larger circumstances, while others might have only themselves to blame. It's up to you to decide which down-on-their-luck companies should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and which really are stuck in the mud. Come back next week, and we'll take a look at another batch of mishaps and disappointments. It'll be fun and educational. It might even rhyme on occasion.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in the companies discussed this week. That poetry bug has bitten him pretty hard, guys. You can see his current holdings for yourself. The Fool has a disclosure policy.