You'd never know it from reading the holiday sales press release, but HibbettSporting Goods (NASDAQ:HIBB) had some dismal numbers to report. In fact, if it had been participating in a sporting event, it would have been called for a penalty.

Hibbett is a sporting goods company in the Southeast that has been trying to expand elsewhere. Back in November, when it announced its third-quarter results, Hibbett raised guidance for the rest of the year, saying it expected to post comp-store sales that were 3% to 5% greater than last year. That put it at odds with competitor Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS), which had expected a 2% rise in comps, while The Sports Authority (NYSE:TSA) forecast a 1% rise.

The company apparently was in motion too soon and drew a yellow flag. Holiday comparable sales came in only 1% above last year. One wonders how Hibbett was able to reiterate earnings guidance of $0.27 to $0.29 for the fourth quarter with a straight face. But if you read the release, you'd never know there was a hint of a problem. You would have found plenty of mention of an 11.9% increase in net sales and an increase in gross margins, as well as talk of the Big Mo -- "momentum" -- building as December sales outpaced November's.

The market wasn't buying the end run and sacked the stock for a 10% loss on Friday. A possible explanation for confirming guidance is that the company had increased its stock buyback plan by $40 million, bringing the total authorized stock repurchase to $100 million. While buybacks are often good for shareholders (for example, if they're used to truly retire stock and not just mask the effects of stock options), they can also be used as a mask for covering up disappointing sales. A buyback program can actually boost earnings per share even if earnings are lower, if there are significantly fewer shares outstanding.

One might also wonder why Hibbett was willing to buy back its shares when they have been trading at some of their all-time highs lately. Just about a year ago, the stock was trading at a 52-week low at around $16 a share. Since then, the company has been reporting growing sales numbers each quarter, and the stock was as high as $32 on Thursday before the company released its sales figures. Share buybacks are usually instituted when management believes its stock is trading at a discount to its real value, not when it's selling at a premium.

If Hibbett doesn't make its earnings guidance for the fourth quarter, shareholders might become angry enough to take profits, which would make the stock more attractive for buybacks.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.