It happens to every company sooner or later: Wall Street sets a mark for quarterly earnings, and the company misses that goal. Sometimes an earnings stumble is a signal to sell, but digging in the dirt is also a good way to find turnaround candidates while they're getting beaten down. Today, we'll find an educator with a few lessons left to learn, a retailer in the middle of an identity crisis, and a casino resort that came up a few chips short.

You live, you learn
Our first miss today comes from job-oriented educator Career Education (NASDAQ:CECO), which reported earnings of $0.36 per share; the analyst community expected $0.49 on average. That's 28% lower than the corresponding quarter last year, and sales came in a few million below expectation as well, at $497 million.

But it gets worse. That $0.36 figure is a pro forma number, excluding a goodwill impairment charge of $85 million, or $0.85 per share. On a GAAP basis, Career Education came up with a loss of $0.49 per share. That's the result of an internal investigation of the health education segment, which concluded that the division wasn't meeting its performance targets and should therefore not be considered as valuable as previously thought.

That may sound like a theoretical problem, not a real one, and it's true that goodwill is an intangible asset class. But it has real meaning for potential takeover candidates, for example, and the government certainly cares, since companies pay taxes on goodwill values. Think of goodwill estimates much like home value estimates. It's a subjective estimation, but it has real business value anyway.

The impairment cuts the value of Career Education's health training services by about one-third, and it's far from the only problem the troubled education firm faces. The Department of Justice is investigating reports to the Department of Education that Career Education possibly understated education costs and overstated the real-world value of that education, all because incentive policies seem to motivate that sort of misreporting. And the total student body of the company's campuses shrank by 8% year over year.

The market's response to this brutal report was equally unforgiving; the share price tanked by 28% overnight, from a closing price that was already at a 52-week low. I'd love to say that I see deep value here, but in truth, the company doesn't appear to be very well-run. It's possible that we're witnessing just another turn in a drawn-out downward spiral. If you're looking for investment opportunities in the education space, you might want to consider Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL) or Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection Blackboard (NASDAQ:BBBB) instead. Career Education just scares me.

Where does this Gateway lead?
Let's move on to computer-systems maker and seller Gateway (NYSE:GTW). The hardware retailer was expected to make a net profit of $0.02 per share on $1 billion of sales, but it could come up with only $919 million of gross revenue and a $0.02 loss per share. The shortfall was pinned on execution problems in the retail channel, and interim CEO Richard Snyder called it a mixed quarter.

The market disagreed, dropping the share price by 12%. Management claims to have a long-term plan in place to turn around the ailing professional-sales segment, and it also says we should see tangible results from that effort about three or four quarters from now. The CEO search is expected to bear fruit within the next couple of months, and perhaps whoever steps up to the plate can fix what appears to be the deeper problem here -- Gateway's identity crisis.

In the earnings conference call, Snyder said it's unclear what Gateway represents to customers and, in many cases, to employees as well. From my outsider's perspective, I can only agree. Take Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) as a counterexample: That company is well known for its direct-sales model, and it has a few clearly separate product lines that cater to very different market segments. There are no such defining characteristics around Gateway, and the shrinking gross margins point to a commodity market in which the company seems to compete on price alone. A rebranding campaign would be high on my to-do list if I were taking over the reins here. Maybe it's time to revive those Holstein-Friesian product boxes? A wacky image is surely better than no image at all.

Never mind this report; check back later
That brings us to our last disappointment this week, in the form of Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN). The resort and casino operator turned in a non-GAAP net loss of $0.05 per share, rather than the expected $0.05-per-share profit on the same basis. However, gross sales came in at $273 million, $4 million greater than analyst estimates. The EPS miss was pinned on the casino customers having better luck than expected in June, but the market didn't seem to care a whit about the net loss. The share price closed 8.5% higher the day after the earnings report.

The bigger story here is Wynn's upcoming casino in Macau. The first phase of the gambling resort will open in September, and the second phase is slated for opening some time in 2007. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, you probably don't follow the casino business very closely. Gambling is illegal in most of the Far East, and this former Portuguese colony on the edge of China is a rare exception, which gives it a reputation as the "Monte Carlo of the Orient."

Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), another American casino specialist, has recently opened shop in Macau with its Sands Macau resort, and it's reporting excellent results from that operation. The company is so happy about the Macau results, in fact, that it's building another resort there. Wynn certainly has the option to expand Asian operations if it sees positive results, since it owns 54 acres of mostly undeveloped land in Macau today.

What to do?
Some of these underperformers are victims of larger circumstances, while others might have only themselves to blame. It's up to you to decide which down-on-their-luck companies should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and which really are stuck in the mud. Come back next Monday, and we'll take a look at another batch of mishaps and disappointments. It'll be fun and educational. Promise.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in the companies discussed this week, and has never gambled in Macau or Las Vegas. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and you can see Anders' current holdings for yourself.