Erstwhile computer king Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), now dethroned by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), reports its fiscal Q3 2008 earnings numbers Thursday afternoon. Want to know what Wall Street expects to see? Read on. Want to know what really matters? Read on a bit more.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Thirty analysts still follow Dell, down one from last quarter. Fifteen of them rate the stock a buy, 13 a hold, and only two say sell.
  • Revenues. On average, they expect to see sales rise 7% to $15.34 billion.
  • Earnings. Profits are predicted to rise 17% to $0.35 per share.

What management says:
 Glory be, and pass the taters! For the first time in I can't remember how long, Dell up to date on its SEC filings, thanks to a one-day paper blizzard that took place on Oct. 30. A day later -- usually the scariest day of the year -- Dell received Nasdaq's reassuring news that, yes, indeed, Virginia, it was Nasdaq-compliant once more. 

What management does:
So now that we've got reliable financial statements to work with, let's see what they're telling us:

Margins

5/06

8/06

11/06

2/07

5/07

8/07

Gross

17.5%

16.8%

16.8%

16.6%

17%

18.3%

Operating

7.6%

6.4%

6.2%

5.3%

5.3%

5.8%

Net

6.1%

5.1%

5%

4.5%

4.4%

4.8%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects performance in the quarters named -- NOT trailing-12-month performance.

One Fool says:
Good news all around, eh? Gross margins are way, way up, with trailing-12-month performance at levels not seen since July 2005. But there's still plenty of room for improvement here. Dell may be beating Sony (NYSE:SNE), Acer, Lenovo, and Sun (NASDAQ:JAVA) at the operating margin level, but it's still lagging archrival HP, and it's even further behind IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

More good news follows. Now that Dell's compliant with its filings once more, management is free to take some moves it's been reluctant to make while its financial status was in doubt. Most recently, Dell confirmed that it has completed a smaller $340 million deal to purchase ASAP Software. And a week before that, as fellow Fool Tom Taulli informed us earlier this month, Dell expanded into the storage space with a $1.4 billion buyout of EqualLogic.

As Tom explains, though, Dell's move into the merge lane carries its own perils. For example, the risk of alienating storage partner EMC (NYSE:EMC). Read more about the risks and rewards at issue in Dell in the M&A Fast Lane.

Dell is both an Inside Value selection and Stock Advisor pick. Try both of these market-beating publications free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. At The Motley Fool, we often repeat -- but never restate -- that we have a disclosure policy.