Real estate developer Howard Hughes Corp (NYSE:HHC) is expected to report its fourth-quarter earnings soon. With that report coming up, here are a few important things investors should take a look at when they are reading through it.

First, let's review
Last quarter Howard Hughes reported revenue of $119.2 million and net income of $45.6 million, or $0.48 per share. While the company was about $18 million lighter than analysts expected on the top line the company did manage to beat earnings estimates by $0.09 per share. However, a big chunk of that had to do with a non-cash gain from the company's warrants. After adjusting for that, and a few other items in the quarter, the company earned $15.5 million, or $0.36 per share, which was $0.10 per share more than it earned in the year ago quarter.

Look at the numbers
Because it's a real estate developer Howard Hughes' sales tends to be lumpy. For the fourth-quarter analysts see its revenue slipping a little to $113.5 million. Earnings, meanwhile, are also expected to slip a bit to $0.19 per share. Not only would that be less than the company earned last quarter, but it will be a lot less than the $0.32 per share the company earned in the fourth-quarter of 2013.

What investors will want to keep an eye on here is how close the company came to analysts' estimates. If it misses investors will want to look to see what caused the miss. For example, if it's due to a deferred land sale or two at the end of the quarter then the miss isn't so bad. However, if the company misses estimates due to lower sales volume in general then it could cause the stock to sell off.

Take a glance at its two key income drivers
If anything is amiss it's likely because one or both of the company's two key income drivers didn't perform as expected. The first area to watch is its master planned community land sales business. Last quarter that business produced $57.2 million in sales, which was up 4.2% over the prior year due to increased lot sales and higher prices at its Woodlands and Bridgeland master planned communities. Investors want to see this business continuing to grow for the same reasons it grew last quarter.

The other income driver to look at is the company's income-producing operating assets. Last quarter net operating income surged 33.3% to $18.4 million. Investors would like to see this segment continue to grow as new income-producing assets are added to the company's portfolio.

Look at progress being made
When Howard Hughes reported its third-quarter results last November it noted that it had several projects that were coming online in the fourth quarter. For example, the company noted that it opened Downtown Summerlin in October. The 1.6 million square foot mixed-use development was said to have gotten off to a strong start as a quarter million people visited it during the grand opening. Ideally, they continued to come back in droves after the festivities ceased.

The company also noted that it completed the construction of Two Hughes Landing, which is an office building. As of the beginning of November the building was 84.8% leased. The hope of course is that the building will be closer to 100% leased by the end of the quarter.

Overall, investors will be looking to see that the company is making progress throughout its portfolio as new assets perform as expected if not better.

Investor takeaway
Howard Hughes investors have a lot to keep an eye on this quarter. While the expectations are that its revenue and earnings will drop a bit from previous quarters, investors will still want to see progress being made. Any signs that progress is slowing could dampen investors' enthusiasm.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.