What happened

Gartner (IT -1.49%) shareholders outperformed a rising market last month. Shares rose 18% in February compared to a 2.6% gain in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The rally helped push the research company ahead of the market, up roughly 40% in the past full year.

A man relaxes behind the screen of a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Investors were thrilled with Garner's fourth-quarter report, which showed strong operating results. Yes, sales fell for the quarter and for 2020. But revenue and earnings each surpassed management's targets thanks to rising demand in the research niche. Efficiency was impressive due to the combination of cost cuts, higher research revenue, and increased contract prices.

Now what

CEO Eugene Hall and his team see a return to growth in 2021 on the way to double-digit sales gains in 2022 and beyond. They're predicting modest steps backward this year in free cash flow and adjusted earnings as most conferences remain virtual. But the tech specialist should see years of expanding profitability in the years to come if it continues to execute at the level it did in fiscal 2020.