Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Dole Food (Nasdaq: DOLE) reported fourth-quarter and full-year fiscal 2010 earnings last night. Of course, when I say "earnings," what I really mean is "losses." Despite growing revenues modestly against the year-ago quarter, Dole managed to turn last year's $15 million Q4 profit into a $36 million Q4 loss this time around.

So what: The market giveth, and the market taketh away. A few months ago, Dole investors were treated to a 10% share spike on no news whatsoever. Today, Mr. Market is taking those gains back -- but don't say you were not warned. When first Fresh Del Monte (NYSE: FDP), then Chiquita Brands (NYSE: CQB) reported poor earnings earlier this month, I told you this would be bad news for Dole.

Now what: True to its interests, Dole management is telling folks to expect further revenue gains, and this time improved profits, in 2011, hinting that now is a great time to buy the stock. But remember: The disappointing results at Dole, Fresh Del Monte, and Chiquita depended not on bad business moves by the companies themselves, but on bad weather, plain and simple. Lousy weather mucked up the banana crop in 2010, and there's no guarantee it won't happen again this year (or that it will.)

My advice: Within the fresh fruit industry, Dole sports both the highest P/E ratio, and the highest levels of debt of the bunch. (Federal law requires that I insert at least one bad fruit pun in any article on Dole.) If you absolutely must own one of these stocks, I'd suggest you at least avoid Dole.

Want to keep closer track of Dole Foods anyway? Stock it in your pantry right now.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not  have any position in any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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