These three companies just didn't live up to Mr. Market's expectations last week. 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.

This week, we're stepping beyond the usual earnings-report doldrums and looking at other kinds of disappointment. The slow times in between earnings seasons can force my hand like that sometimes.

Mayday! Mayday!
But the first underperformer is still a straight earnings miss, courtesy of gadget designer Palm (NASDAQ:PALM). Wall Street expected a loss of around $0.06 per share, to be reported sometime around Dec. 18. But Palm raised its hand early and blurted out a preliminary pro forma loss of $0.09 per share on a non-GAAP basis -- give or take a penny.

Unexpected volume in warranty repair expenses and failure to certify and ship a new product led to slow sales and gruesome gross margins. The full results are still due in next week, but you shouldn't expect a whole lot of good news when you're starting from a fundamental miss of this magnitude.

Fellow Fool Rich Smith pointed out that trinkets like the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry are eating Palm's lunch these days, and the company has failed to adjust to a much more competitive smartphone market.

Palm's lifeline is shortening before our very eyes, and management needs to learn to read the signs in its own hand sometime soon. It's the second time in just a few months that the company has lowered its estimates, and the supply chain troubles don't inspire much confidence in management's operational insights. This is still a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, but you might want to pick up a free 30-day trial pass to that service to see what the Gardner brothers think of their pick these days.

Abort!
Let's do a two-fer next. On Friday, digital-rights specialist Macrovision (NASDAQ:MVSN) announced that it is buying part-time competitor Gemstar-TV Guide International (NASDAQ:GMST) for $2.8 billion in cash and stock. Both stocks immediately fell through the floor, and now have a combined enterprise value of just $2.5 billion. Ouch.

To Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso's credit, he isn't trying to please short-term investors. "I have a confidence and a high expectation that as we continue to work over the next few months on integration -- and beyond that after closing -- that this is going to be an enormous value for our stockholders," he said. Complementary technologies from the two companies are supposed to combine into a flexible and powerful platform for organizing and distributing media content to American consumers through a wider-than-ever range of services and devices.

Still, there's a real chance that this deal could fall through. After the respective price drops, fewer Gemstar shareholders should opt for Macrovision shares over cash, which in turn might force the buyer to raise more debt to finance the cash expenses. And debt doesn't come cheap these days, especially if you're already straining your borrowing power a bit. In other words, the twin price drop may have been the self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps these companies separated after all.

False alarm!
The last item on this week's list will be a quickie. Credit-ratings giant Moody's (NYSE:MCO) put student-loan mastodon First Marblehead (NYSE:FMD) on notice as the company reviews Marblehead's loan securitizations. In short, Moody's is getting moody because some of the lower tranches of Marblehead's packeted loans are showing increased default rates these days. The share price dropped some 40% between Monday morning and Friday night.

I'm keeping this short because there's no way for me to improve on fellow Fool Chris Singley's analysis of the credit review. In essence, the news means no new securitizations for a while. And that might be all it means. Chris says that the stock is trading for about six times his adjusted earnings estimates. Sound cheap? Here's how he came up with those numbers.

Over and out
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 ones are stuck in the mud for real.

Further Foolish reading:

Seeking great deals on unfairly punished stocks? Philip Durell and his merry band of Fools at the Motley Fool Inside Value newsletter service are standing by to help you find great stocks at ridiculously low markdowns. Try a 30-day trial subscription to see whether bargain-hunting is right for you. First Marblehead is an Inside Value pick and a Hidden Gems recommendation; Moody's and Palm are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in the companies discussed this week. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy, and you can see his current holdings for yourself.