What happened

United Rentals (URI 1.49%) trounced the market last month as the stock gained 22%, compared to an 8% spike in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The rally removed only a small portion of recent losses for shareholders, and the stock remains lower by 25% in the past year.

Check out the latest United Rentals earnings call transcript.

A man standing on an aerial work platform.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Investors were pleasantly surprised by the equipment rental giant's fourth-quarter earnings report that in late January showed steady operating improvements. United Rentals achieved 17% higher rental volumes and a 2% uptick in rates, which allowed pre-tax earnings to rise at a healthy clip. "We delivered strong fourth quarter results," CEO Michael Kneeland said in a press release, "including broad growth and rental rate improvement in a year that leveraged our numerous competitive advantages."

Now what

Kneeland and his team are hoping to lean on those advantages to push sales up to between $9.15 billion and $9.55 billion in 2019 from $8 billion in 2018. If it pairs those gains with further improvements in rental rates and return on invested capital, then shareholders could see more market-thumping growth from this beaten-down stock, especially if tariffs lessen their impact on United Rental's cost structure over time.