Stock Quotes in this Article: CTAS, DRI, PIR, RAD, SCHL

DELAFIELD, Wis. (Stockpickr) -- 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.

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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.

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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.

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

Pier 1 Imports

My first earnings short-squeeze trade idea is Pier 1 Imports (PIR), a global importer of imported decorative home furnishings and gifts, which is set to release numbers on Thursday before the market opens. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Pier 1 Imports to report revenue of $404.64 million on earnings of 21 cents per share.

Just recently, Argus said the recent pullback in shares of Pier 1 Imports is providing an attractive entry point, and the firm reiterated its buy rating on the stock with a $27 per share price target. The firm believes that Pier 1 Imports should hold up well in a promotional and competitive environment.

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The current short interest as a percentage of the float Pier 1 Imports stands at 5%. That means that out of the 97.51 million shares in the tradable float, 4.90 million shares are sold short by the bears. If the bulls get the earnings news they're looking for, then shares of PIR could jump sharply higher post-earnings as the bears rush to cover some of their bets.

From a technical perspective, PIR is currently trending above both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bullish. This stock has been uptrending for the last month, with shares moving higher from its low of $20.59 to its intraday high of $23.23 a share. During that uptrend, shares of PIR have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares of PIR within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're bullish on PIR, 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 $23.50 to $24 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average action of 1.25 million shares. If that breakout hits, then PIR will set up to re-test or possibly take out its 52-week high at $25.28 a share. Any high-volume move above $25.28 could push PIR towards $30 a share.

I would simply avoid PIR or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout and then drops back below its 200-day at $22.44 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then PIR will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $21.64 to $20.59 a share.

Scholastic

Another potential earnings short-squeeze trade idea is children'’s publishing, education, and media company Scholastic (SCHL), which is set to release its numbers on Thursday before the market open. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Scholastic to report revenue $299.70 million on a loss of 68 cents per share.

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The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Scholastic is very high at 13.3%. That means that out of the 27.7 million shares in the tradable float, 3.41 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 12.9%, or by about 388,000 shares. If the bears get caught pressing their bets into a strong quarter, then shares of SCHL could rip sharply higher post-earnings as the bears rush to cover some of their short bets.

From a technical perspective, SCHL is currently trending above its 200-day moving average and just below its 50-day moving average, which is neutral trendwise. This stock has been trending sideways for the last two months, with shares moving between $28.68 on the downside and $31.44 on the upside. Any high-volume move above the upper-end of its recent range could trigger a near-term breakout trade for shares of SCHL post-earnings.

If you're in the bull camp on SCHL, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this manages to break out above its 50-day moving average at $30.43 a share and then once it takes out more resistance at $31.44 a share high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average action of 170,081 shares. If that breakout hits, then SCHL will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $33 to its 52-week high at $34.55 a share. Any high-volume move above those levels will then give SCHL a chance to tag $40 a share.

I would simply avoid SCHL or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout, and then drops back below its 200-day at $29.15 a share and then once it takes out more key near-term support levels at $28.68 to $28.08 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then SCHL will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $27 to $26 a share.

Rite Aid

One potential earnings short-squeeze candidate is retail drugstore chain operator Rite Aid (RAD), which is set to release numbers on Thursday before the market open. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Rite Aid to report revenue of $6.27 billion on a loss of 4 cents per share.

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The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Rite Aid is notable at 3.7%. That means that out of the 896 million shares in the tradable float, 33.54 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 32%, or by about 8.13 million shares. If the bears get caught pressing their bets into a bullish quarter, then shares of RAD could easily explode higher post-earnings as the bears rush to cover some of their short bets.

From a technical perspective, RAD is currently trending above its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bullish. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last six months, with shares moving higher from its low of $1.65 to its recent high of $3.75 a share. During that uptrend, shares of RAD have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares of RAD within range of triggering a major breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're bullish on RAD, then I would wait until after its report and look for long-biased trades if this stock manages to break out above its 52-week high at $3.75 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average action of 20.36 million shares. If that breakout hits, then RAD will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $5 to $6 a share.

I would avoid RAD 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 $3.53 a share to its 50-day moving average of $3.25 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then RAD will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $3.08 to $2.80 a share.

Cintas

Another earnings short-squeeze prospect is business support services player Cintas (CTAS), which is set to release numbers on Thursday after the market close. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Cintas to report revenue of $1.10 billion on earnings of 63 cents per share.

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The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Cintas stands at 5.6%. That means that out of the 102.38 million shares in the tradable float, 5.70 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 2.5%, or by about 136,000 shares. If the bears get caught pressing their bets into a strong quarter, then shares of CTAS could move up sharply higher post-earnings as the bears move to cover some of those bets.

From a technical perspective, CTAS 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 six months, with shares moving higher from its low of $42.35 to its recent high of $50.80 a share. During that uptrend, shares of CTAS have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares of CTAS within range of triggering a big breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're bullish on CTAS, 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 $61 to $62.27 a share and then once it takes its 52-week high at $50.80 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average action of 458,136 shares. If that breakout hits, then CTAS will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $60 to $65 a share.

I would simply avoid CTAS 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 $49.50 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then CTAS will set up to re-test or possibly take out its 50-day at $48.32 share to more near-term support levels at $47.64 to $47 a share.

Darden Restaurants

My final earnings short-squeeze play is full-service restaurant operator Darden Restaurants (DRI), which is set to release numbers on Friday before the market open. Wall Street analysts, on average, expect Darden Restaurants to report revenue of $2.20 billion on earnings of 70 cents per share.

Just recently, Wunderlich issued a hold rating on shares of Darden Restaurants with a $50 per share price target. The firm said internal investments will take time to bear fruit.

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The current short interest as a percentage of the float for Darden Restaurants is pretty high at 7.3%. That means that out of the 129.22 million shares in the tradable float, 9.47 million shares are sold short by the bears. The bears have also been increasing their bets from the last reporting period by 8.1%, or by about 705,000 shares. If the bears get caught pressing their bets into a bullish quarter, then shares of DRI could spike sharply higher post-earnings as the bears jump to cover some of those bets.

From a technical perspective, DRI is currently trending above both its 50-day and 200-day moving averages, which is bullish. This stock has been uptrending for the last few weeks, with shares moving higher from its low of $45.71 a share to its intraday high of $49.50 a share. During that uptrend, shares of DRI have been consistently making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move has now pushed shares of DRI within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade post-earnings.

If you're in the bull camp on DRI, 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 at $50.15 a share with high volume. Look for volume on that move that hits near or above its three-month average volume of 1.44 million shares. If that breakout hits, then DRI will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $52.24 to $54.66 a share. Any high-volume move above those levels will then give DRI a chance to tag its 52-week high at $57.93 a share.

I would avoid DRI or look for short-biased trades if after earnings it fails to trigger that breakout and then drops back below both its 50-day at $48.62 a share and its 200-day at $48.27 a share with high volume. If we get that move, then DRI will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major support levels at $45.71 to $42.75 a share.

To see more potential earnings short squeeze plays, check out the Earnings Short-Squeeze Plays portfolio on Stockpickr.

-- Written by Roberto Pedone in Delafield, Wis.

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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Roberto Pedone, based out of Delafield, Wis., is an independent trader who focuses on technical analysis for small- and large-cap stocks, options, futures, commodities and currencies. Roberto studied international business at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and he spent a year overseas studying business in Lubeck, Germany. His work has appeared on financial outlets including CNBC.com and Forbes.com. You can follow Pedone on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zerosum24 or @zerosum24.