In the Phrase "the firm was trading 96 times trailing earnings..." Can I understand "trailing earnings" as "expected earnings"?
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Trailing earnings are past earnings. Generally, the earnings per share for a firm's most recently completed fiscal year.
So, was the author comparing 2011 with 2010, for example?
Probably. The sentence is saying that the shares were currently trading a 96 times what they were in the last fiscal year.