Earnings season was in full swing this week, which can make an investor's head spin given the volume of reports to digest. Because of that, it's easy to have missed the earnings of lesser-known companies. That's especially true in the oil patch where several big-time producers posted disappointing results that grabbed attention. With all eyes on those headliners, investors likely missed the good news reported by Newfield Exploration (NYSE:NFX), Encana (NYSE:ECA), and Concho Resources (NYSE:CXO).

Coming out ahead in every metric that matters

While several oil producers reported earnings that came in below analysts' estimates in the second quarter, Newfield Exploration posted expectation-beating results. The oil producer's net income was $189 million, or $0.94 per share, which was $0.12 per share ahead of the analysts' consensus estimate. 

A close-up of a natural gas wellhead with three oil pumps in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Fueling Newfield's earnings beat was higher-than-expected production in the Anadarko Basin, where output averaged 131,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/D) during the quarter. That was 13% higher than the first quarter, and well above the 123,000 BOE/D mid-point of its guidance range.

Because of its strong production and higher oil prices, Newfield Exploration generated $11 million in free cash flow during the quarter as it more than fully funded its drilling program. That boosted its cash position to almost $300 million and pushed its net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA ratio to 1.7 times, which is ahead of its plan to get that number to 1.8 times by year-end. The company's strong performance and improving balance sheet are two reasons investors won't want to continue overlooking this oil stock.

Ahead of schedule

Encana's second-quarter results also came in ahead of analysts' expectations. While the consensus heading into the quarter was that Encana would earn an adjusted $0.12 per share, the company ended up reporting $0.21 per share in earnings. Driving its stronger-than-expected showing was the production of oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs), which rose 24% year over year and was 7% higher than the first quarter.

The company's solid operating performance has it in position for a "strong second half of the year," according to comments by CEO Doug Suttles in the earnings release. Because of that, Suttles stated that the company is "on track to generate free cash flow in 2018, one year earlier than originally targeted in our five-year plan." That upcoming shift toward generating free cash flow has already given Encana the confidence to begin using some of the cash it built up from asset sales during the downturn to repurchase stock. The company has already spent half of its $400 million buyback authorization through the end of July, putting it on pace to exhaust it by year-end. However, with it on track to start generating excess cash sooner than it anticipated, Encana could boost that buyback before year-end.

A pumpjack on the middle of the corn field.

Image source: Getty Images.

A full tank to continue growing

Concho Resources (NYSE:CXO) was another driller that surprised to the upside after hauling in $185 million, or $1.24 per share, of adjusted net income during the second quarter, which was $0.29 per share ahead of the consensus estimate. Several factors drove the company's expectation-beating results, including producing at the high end of its guidance range and cutting interest expenses 8% by refinancing some debt.

Another recent highlight for Concho was the completion of its acquisition of RSP Permian, which transformed the combined company into the largest driller in the Permian Basin. That deal is a needle-mover in the near term as it has the company on pace to increase production by 21% to 23% this year, even as it invests within the cash flows generated at current oil prices. Meanwhile, Concho now holds an enhanced acreage position in the region, which should enable it to continue delivering fast-paced growth in the coming years.

These under-the-radar oil stocks are worth watching

While big-name oil stocks underperformed expectations in the second quarter due to rising costs, that wasn't an industrywide issue. That's evident by looking at the quarters of lesser-known producers Newfield, Encana, and Concho, which all thrived thanks to exceptional drilling results and a greater skillfulness at keeping a lid on costs. Their ability to succeed where larger rivals failed makes them worth adding to your watchlist.

Matthew DiLallo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.