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5 Stocks Poised to Pop on Bullish Earnings

Roberto Pedone | TheStreet.com Contributor
Monday, 11 Feb 2013 | 4:56 PM ET
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Short-sellers hate being caught short a stock that reports a blowout quarter. When this happens, we often see a tradable short squeeze develop as the bears rush to cover their positions to avoid big losses. Even the best short-sellers know that it's never a great idea to stay short once a bullish earnings report sparks a big short-covering rally.

This is why I scan the market for heavily shorted stocks that are about to report earnings. You only need to find a few of these stocks in a year to help enhance your portfolio returns — the gains become so outsized in such a short time frame that your profits add up quickly.

That said, let's not forget that stocks are heavily shorted for a reason, so you have to use trading discipline and sound money management when playing earnings short-squeeze candidates. It's important that you don't go betting the farm on these plays and that you manage your risk accordingly. Sometimes the best play is to wait for the stock to break out following the report before you jump in to profit off a short squeeze. This way, you're letting the trend emerge after the market has digested all of the news.

Of course, sometimes the stock is going to be in such high demand that you risk missing a lot of the move by waiting. That's why it can be worth betting prior to the report — but only if the stock is acting technically very bullish and you have a very strong conviction that it is going to rip higher. Just remember that even when you have that conviction and have done your due diligence, the stock can still get hammered if The Street doesn't like the numbers or guidance.

If you do decide to bet ahead of a quarter, then you might want to use options to limit your capital exposure. Heavily shorted stocks are usually the names that make the biggest post-earnings moves and have the most volatility. I personally prefer to wait until all the earnings-related news is out for a heavily shorted stock and then jump in and trade the prevailing trend.

With that in mind, here's a look at several stocks that could experience big short squeezes when they report earnings this week.

My first earnings short-squeeze play is manufacturer and marketer of natural and organic foods Annie's, which is set to release numbers on Monday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Annie's to report revenue of $36.60 million on earnings of 14 cents per share.

If you're looking for a heavily-shorted stock that's been beaten-down pretty bad heading into its earnings report, then make sure to check out shares of Annie's. This stock has dropped 15 percent during the last six months, with shares currently trading just five points off its 52-week low of $31 a share.

The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Annie's is extremely high at 23.6 percent. That means that out of the 9.90 million shares in the tradable float, 2.33 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 7.7 percent, or by about 165,000 shares. If the bears are caught pressing their bets too hard into a strong quarter, then we could easily see a large short-squeeze develop for Annie's post-earnings.

From a technical perspective, Annie's is currently trending above its 50-day moving average and below its 200-day moving average, which is neutral trend wise. This stock has been trending sideways for the last month, with shares moving between $33.95 on the downside and $38.80 on the upside. A high-volume move above the upper end of that recent range will trigger a near-term breakout trade for shares of Annie's.

If you're bullish on Annie's, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out above some near-term overhead resistance levels at $37.50 to $38.80 a share and then once it clears its 200-day moving average at $39.26 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that registers near or above its three-month average volume of 356,298 shares. If that breakout hits, then Annie's stock will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $42 to $45 a share.

I would simply avoid Annie's or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout, and then drops back below some key near-term support levels at $35.68 to $35.56 a share with heavy volume. If we get that move, then the stock will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $33.95 to $32.06 a share. Any high-volume move below $32.06 will then put its 52-week low of $31 into range for shares of Annie's.

(Read More: Stocks Better Investment Than Homes: Prof. Shiller)

Another potential earnings short-squeeze trade is restaurant owner and operator Buffalo Wild Wings, which is set to release its numbers on Tuesday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Buffalo Wild Wings to report revenue of $291.96 million on earnings of 95 cents per share.

Just recently, KeyBanc upgraded shares of Buffalo Wild Wings to "buy" from "hold" citing that several risks are already priced into the stock and valuation is compelling. The firm said that shares already reflect investors' fears that the company will report lower-than-expected 2013 earnings per share due to rising chicken wing prices. KeyBanc has an $85 price target on the stock, and doesn't expect the company to lower its 2013 earnings per share guidance.

The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Buffalo Wild Wings is very high at 19.8%. That means that out of the 18.36 million shares in the tradable float, 3.62 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 4.7 percent, or by about 160,000 shares. If the bears are caught leaning too hard into a strong number, then shares could rip higher post-earnings.

From a technical perspective, Buffalo Wild Wings stock is currently trending above its 50-day moving average and just below its 200-day moving average, which is neutral trendwise. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last two months and change, with shares moving higher from its low o $69.72 to its recent high of $78.46 a share. During that uptrend, shares of the company have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares of Buffalo Wild Wings within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're in the bull camp on Buffalo Wild Wings, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out above some near-term overhead resistance levels at $78.02 to $78.46 a share and then once it clears its 200-day at $79.32 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average volume of 405,881 shares. If that breakout triggers, then the stock will set up to re-fill some of its previous gap down zone from last October that started near $86 a share. Any high-volume move above $86 will then put $88 to $89.80 into range for shares of Buffalo Wild Wings.

I would simply avoid the stock or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout, and then drops back below its 50-day at $74.70 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then Buffalo Wild Wings will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $72.75 to $72.70 a share. Any high-volume move below those levels will then put $69.80 to $69.72 into range for shares of Buffalo Wild Wings.

One potential earnings short-squeeze candidate is biotechnology and drugs player Seattle Genetics, which is set to release numbers on Tuesday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Seattle Genetics to report revenue of $57.21 million on a loss of 11 cents per share.

If you're looking for a strong trending stock heading into its quarterly report, then make sure to take a hard look at shares of Seattle Genetics. This stock is up 28 percent during the last three months, and it has hit a 52-week high today at $30.85 a share.

The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Seattle Genetics is pretty high at 19.3 percent. That means that out of the 98.03 million shares in the tradable float, 22.49 million shares are sold short by the bears. If the bulls get the earnings news they're looking for, then this stock could easily explode higher post-earnings.

From a technical perspective, Seattle Genetics is currently trending above both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bullish. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last month and change, with shares soaring higher from its low of $22.71 to its recent high of $30.85 a share. During that uptrend, shares of Seattle Genetics have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're bullish on Seattle Genetics, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out to a new 52-week high above $30.85 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average action of 770,805 shares. If that breakout triggers, then the stock will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $35 to $45 a share.

I would avoid Seattle Genetics or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout, and then drops back below some key near-term support levels at $28.82 to $28.36 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then the stock will set up to re-test or possibly take out its 50-day moving average of $26.67 a share or its 200-day moving average of $25.12 a share.

(Read More: What Stocks Analysts Were Buzzing About This Week)

Another earnings short-squeeze play is biotechnology and drugs player Theravance, which is set to release numbers on Tuesday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Theravance to report revenue of $3.88 million on a loss of 42 cents per share.

If you're looking for a heavily-shorted stock that's been beaten down noticeably heading into its quarterly report, then make sure to check out shares of Theravance. This stock is off by 15 percent during the last six months, and it's currently trading about six points above its 52-week low of $15.69 a share.

The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Theravance is notable at 11.5 percent. That means that out of the 54.52 million shares in the tradable float, 7.93 million shares are sold short by the bears. Any bullish earnings news could easily spark a sharp short-covering rally for shares of Theravance post-earnings.

From a technical perspective, Theravance is currently trending below both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bearish. This stock has started to flirt with its 50-day moving average of $22.03 today, since shares have hit an intraday high of $22.33 a share. That move is quickly pushing the stock within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're bullish on Theravance, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out above some near-term overhead resistance levels at $22.96 to $23.57 a share and then once it clears more resistance at $23.86 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that registers near or above its three-month average action of 614,331 shares. If that breakout triggers, then Theravance will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $25.67 to $27.52 a share.

I would avoid this stock or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout and then drops back below some key near-term support at $21.75 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then Theravance will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $19.98 to $19.61 a share. Any high-volume move below $19.61 will then put $18 to $17.06 into range for shares of Theravance.

My final earnings short-squeeze trade idea is cloud computing player Rackspace, which is set to release numbers on Tuesday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Rackspace to report revenue of $355.42 million on earnings of 22 cents per share.

This company has registered double-digit year-over-year percentage revenue growth for the last four quarters. Over that timeframe, the company has averaged growth of 29.7 percent, with the biggest growth seen in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year when revenue jumped 31.9 percent. Rackspace has reported increasing profits for three quarters in a row. During the most recent quarter, its profit jumped 36.1 percent year-over-year.

The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Rackspace stands at 8.4 percent. That means that out of the 111.60 million shares in the tradable float, 9.36 million shares are sold short by the bears. This isn't a huge short interest, but it's more than enough to send shares screaming higher post-earnings if the company can deliver the numbers the bulls are looking for.

From a technical perspective, Rackspace is currently trending above both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bullish. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last three months, with shares soaring higher from its low of $58.56 to its recent high of $81.36 a share. During that uptrend, shares of Rackspace have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed the stock within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're in the bull camp on Rackspace, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out above some near-term overhead resistance levels at $75 to $77.50 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that registers near or above its three-month average action of 1.2 million shares. If that breakout triggers, then the stock will set up to re-test or possibly take out its 52-week high of $81.36 a share. Any high-volume move above $81.36 will then send shares into new 52-week-high territory, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that move are $85 to $90 a share.

I would simply avoid Rackspace or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout, and then drops back below some key near-term support levels at $72.07 to $70 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then RAX will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $67.50 to $65 a share. Any high-volume move below $65 will then put $62.50 to $60 into range for shares of Rackspace.

By TheStreet.com Contributor Roberto Pedone

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TheStreet does not permit any employees on its editorial staff to individually hold positions in individual stocks, though they are permitted to own stock in TheStreet.

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