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As earnings rallies drive along–and we’re sure in one now–investors gradually start to expect good news. More and more earnings surprises are anticipated by stock prices that start to climb before the results are reported. Part way through the earnings season a big surprise doesnt move a stock much any more since the news has been baked into stock prices in advance. And finally, the rally reaches the stage where prices actually fall on great news since even the great has been anticipated by rising prices and investors now sell the news.

I don’t think we’ve reached that last stage yet. But I can see the middle stage starting to unfold.

On July 21 Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold (FCX) announced a huge surprise. Instead of earning 69 cents a share, the company earned $1.38. And the stock climbed by just a little more than 2%.

Great news can still move a stock big. Witness the almost 8% gain in shares of Caterpillar after that company beat expectations by 50 cents a share.

But watch for signs of a slide in the coming days. Today after the close investors got earnings reports from Apple (AAPL) and Yahoo! (YHOO). Tomorrow brings Morgan Stanley (MS), Wells Frago (WFC), Qualcomm (QCOM), and Steel Dynamics (STLD).  Watch to see how much of a surprise it takes to move a stock after those reports.