Don't settle for ordinary quarterly reports.

Every week, I take a look at three companies that beat market expectations, since I believe that it's the biggest factor in a stock beating the market. Leaving Wall Street's pros with stunned expressions can be a good thing. It usually means that the companies have more in the tank than analysts figured. Capital appreciation typically follows.

Let's take a look at a few companies that humbled the pros over the past few trading days.

We can start with Infinera (NASDAQ:INFN)The provider of digital optical networking systems posted an adjusted net loss of $0.06 a share on $124.6 million in revenue. Analysts were holding out for a deficit of $0.07 a share on $119.7 million in revenue.

Infinera's strong quarter inspired Needham & Co. to upgrade its rating on the stock to "buy" with a $12 price target. It wasn't just Needham & Co. that was impressed, as Infinera stock was one of the market's biggest winners with a 31% pop last week.

Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) was another topper. It's been a rough year for the iron-ore miner heading into last week's quarterly report, and last month's announcement that it was halting production at a Canadian iron-ore pellet plant triggered a wave of analysts hosing down their forecasts on the company.

On the surface, it wasn't a good report out of Cliffs. Revenue declined 6%, and adjusted earnings fell even harder. However, the profit of $0.60 a share that Cliffs did ring up was nearly double the $0.32 a share that analysts were projecting.

The stock moved 14% higher on the week.

Finally, we have Level 3 Communications (NYSE:LVLT) besting the pros on the bottom line. Despite posting revenue that dipped slightly sequentially and year over year, the provider of Web-based communications services posted an adjusted loss of just $0.13 a share.

Analysts were banking on $0.17 a share in red ink. Level 3 had actually come up short against Wall Street's marks in recent quarters, so the beat was a welcome surprise.

Moving in the right direction
It's important to keep watching the companies that surpass expectations. Over time, it will be a lucrative experience for investors as the market rewards the overachievers. That's the kind of surprise that we look for in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.