Earnings season is just about over, with almost all companies already having reported their quarterly results. But there are still a few companies left to report, and Finish Line (NASDAQ:FINL) is about to release its quarterly earnings. The key to making smart investment decisions with stocks releasing their quarterly 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.

Finish Line isn't the biggest player in the athletic shoe and apparel industry, but it nevertheless has sought to take advantage of the big growth in the area over the past several years. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Finish Line over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report on Thursday.

Stats on Finish Line

Analyst EPS Estimate


Change From Year-Ago EPS


Revenue Estimate

$452.3 million

Change From Year-Ago Revenue


Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Will Finish Line finish strong this quarter?
Analysts have cut their views on Finish Line over the past few months, slicing $0.08 per share off their earnings estimates for the most-recent quarter and $0.26 per share on their full-year fiscal 2014 calls. The stock has similarly languished, falling about 3% since late December despite the stock market's overall strength.

The demand for athletic apparel has risen sharply in recent years, as new players among apparel- and shoemakers have forced established giants to up their game. Nike (NYSE:NKE) continues to dominate the athletic footwear industry, but Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) has challenged the company on the apparel side of the business and more recently has gone heads-up against Nike with its own shoes. That buzz has helped increase awareness of athletic specialty products generally.

But the big problem is that the most successful brands have made moves to distribute their goods through their own stores rather than via independent specialty retailers. Both Nike and Under Armour distribute through third parties, but both companies have networks of factory outlets and specialty stores that allow them to keep more of their profits. Although rival Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) has done a fairly good job of keeping its stock moving higher over the long run, in part because of its emphasis on highly popular basketball shoes, Finish Line has struggled under the threat of competition and sluggishness in running-shoe demand.

In response, Finish Line has been working with Macy's (NYSE:M) to create a store-within-a-store concept. But some analysts are skeptical about whether the move will do more harm than good as it saps Finish Line's status as an independent retailer.

In its quarterly report, watch for Finish Line to address how it intends to integrate its various business elements into a coherent strategy. Without a solid plan, it's hard to see Finish Line finishing well despite the industry's favorable tailwinds.

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