Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Heartland Payment Systems (NYSE: HPY) popped 14% in intraday trading today after EPS of $0.20  beat the consensus estimate of $0.15 and improved markedly from $0.04 in the year-ago quarter.

So what: The company missed earnings expectations in seven of the prior nine quarters, making the first quarter's significant upside all the more of a positive surprise. Revenue of $112.7 million grew 9% year-over-year and came in above the consensus forecast of $110.8 million.

Now what: Processing/servicing costs and customer acquisition costs both declined from the year-ago quarter, showing that efforts to improve processing efficiency and sales productivity are positively impacting profits. The improvement appears sustainable. Management raised fiscal 2011 guidance to revenue growth of 8%-10% (up from 7%-9%) and non-GAAP EPS of $0.95-$0.99 (up from $0.95).  

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Fool contributor Cindy Johnson does not own shares of any company named above. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.