Why 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 quizzical looks on their faces can be a good thing. It usually means that the companies have more in the tank than analysts figured and capital appreciation often follows.

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

We can start with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the company to stumble, with netbooks being all the rage over the holidays and consumers staying away from big-ticket items. However, Apple delivered a quarterly profit of $1.78 a share on Wednesday, well ahead of the $1.39 a share that Wall Street was expecting.

Apple isn't necessarily a speedster. Its earnings came in mostly in line with the $1.76 a share it earned a year ago. The key here is that analysts were braced for a dramatic bottom-line shortfall that thankfully never arrived.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is another topper. The dot-com bellwether came through with net income of $5.10 a share before a series of charges, including its need to write down the value of its investments in Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL and WiMAX upstart Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR). Google's showing was well ahead of both the $4.43 a share it posted a year ago and the $4.95 that Mr. Market was expecting.

Is Google an anomaly or is the paid search market stronger than cynics have feared? We'll get a better indication when Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) reports tomorrow.

Finally, we have New Oriental Education (NYSE:EDU) making the grade. China's largest for-profit educator earned $0.08 a share in its latest quarter, topping the market's $0.06-a-share guesstimate. When you have a 20% spike in students, a 54% surge in revenue, and you're already enlightening a crowd that is significantly larger than stateside leader Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL), it's hard not to like the company's chances.

So, keep watching the companies that top expectations. Over time, it will be a rewarding experience for investors as the market rewards the overachievers. That's the kind of surprise we look for in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription.

Either way, come back next Monday to learn about more stocks that blew the market away.

New Oriental Education is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.