RALEIGH, N.C. — Will Red Hat shareholders have more “green” under the Christmas trees this week? The stock, like so many others, has been hammered this year with a 50 percent drop in share value. But a good earnings announcement today and a new product announcement last week could bolster Hatter shares.

Analysts expect Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) to post earnings of 18 cents a share when the world’s leading Linux software developer and services provider announces its latest quarterly results Monday after the markets close.

On Friday, Morgan Stanley initiated RHT coverage with an “equal weight” rating. That neutral endorsement followed a “hold” declaration from Cantor Fitzgerald when it launched Red Hat coverage. Given the current economic environment and how much Red Hat relies on financial firms for its Red Hat Enterprise Server business, a hold looks pretty good.

Back on Dec. 4, Jefferies raised its Red Hat rating to a “buy,” noting several factors in Red Hat’s favor, including customer loyalty. That point brings us back to Friday’s product announcement – what one Linux news site called a “new Unix killer.”

Software and operating system upgrades create nightmares that keep systems administrators awake. If you think upgrading your latest Firefox browser is a pain, magnify your angst a thousandfold and you might come close to the feelings of those men and women who must integrate enterprise upgrades, Making matters worse, scrutiny of e-records is going to increase even more as regulation returns to Wall Street with a vengeance.

Red Hat sought to address some of those upgrade concerns with its new extended support service. The change enables firms to operate existing versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux longer without having to install upgrades. If they didn’t upgrade in the past, they would be in violation of Red Hat’s service contracts. (And those contracts are where Red Hat makes the vast majority of its money.)

In Red Hat’s view, the new offering gives it a decided advantage over competitors such as Unix providers.

The product is called “Extended Update Support.”

A new product and some endorsements from analysts certainly help Red Hat stabilize its stock for the short term. But today’s earnings announcement, and especially revenue forecasts into the unknowns of 2009, will carry even more weight starting at around 4:05 p.m.