Lowering guidance can bring on a world of pain for a company. Not only does the stock take a hit when the news is announced, but it can also continue to fall for quite a while afterwards. Investors face a dilemma: Is it time to join the mad dash for the exits, or is it a buying opportunity in disguise?

A guide to the future
It's not always easy to tell whether your company is having a fire sale or burning down. With the help of Motley Fool CAPS, however, understanding the difference is now a whole lot simpler.

The investor-intelligence database compiles the opinions of more than 100,000 professional and novice investors about stocks they think will outperform the market and those they think will not. Pairing that information with companies that have recently lowered their guidance should help us decide which of the stocks are hotter than hot and which ones are not worth wasting water to douse. A high CAPS rating with lowered guidance could present you with a real deal.

Here are five companies that have recently guided lower coupled with what CAPS investors think:

Company

Period

Analyst Estimate/
Previous Guidance

Updated Guidance

CAPS Rating (5 Max)

ValueClick (Nasdaq: VCLK)

Q2 2008

$0.17

$0.15-$0.16

*****

American Capital Strategies (Nasdaq: ACAS)

Q2 2008

$0.80

$0.68-$0.75

****

Synchronoss Technologies (Nasdaq: SNCR)

FY2008

$0.90

$0.55-$0.60

****

Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE)

Q2 2008

$0.22

$0.15-$0.18

***

Midway Games (NYSE: MWY)

Q2 2008

($0.15)

($0.28)

*

Source: Briefing.com, Motley Fool CAPS.

Now, this is not a list of stocks to buy. Research factors rarely work well alone in investing, so consider this a list for further research.

Making it click
In any discussion of paid search, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is, of course, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), whose Performix unit is a formidable rival to anyone. ValueClick has other issues besides Google that it has to contend with, not least of which is the aftermath of an FTC investigation and the loss of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) as a customer. Although the company did raise earnings estimates for the full year, that was on the basis of a one-time $5 million injection from its comparative shopping unit. Without that gain, the full-year picture would be lower.

Yet there are still signs of life in the online advertiser. It remains a leader in an industry that should continue to grow as advertisers migrate more from traditional outlets to online media. With the Microsoft/Yahoo! deal dead -- at least for now -- ValueClick even becomes an attractive buyout contender.

More than 500 investors have weighed in on ValueClick, and 97% of them think it will outperform the market. Furthermore, 97% of the 167 All-Star investors casting their votes for the online advertiser think it will overcome the challenges facing it. Yet it can't be denied that many of the investors weighing in are judging ValueClick for what it can do for an acquirer.

CAPS player bspiker says a buyout attempt could push the stock up two to three times its current price: "[I]t's a good value now around 18 and change but my hope is for a takeover like [DoubleClick] and [aQuantive] were last year. Takeover price based on those valuations could be anywhere from 40-60 per share."

Even investor skelator, who thinks ValueClick is likely to underperform because it lost eBay, sees its "saving grace" being a buyout: "eBay is creating their own in house affiliate program and I know some analysts say it won't have an impact on VCLK earnings, but I don't believe it. The one saving grace for this stock is that if it drops too far someone will buy them out for sure."

Guide on!
Your input can help guide other investors to higher prospects for growth even in the face of lower guidance. Head to Motley Fool CAPS, and let your voice lead the way.

American Capital is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection, and eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Blue Nile is a Rule Breakers pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

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