Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports?

Every week, I examine three companies that beat market expectations; I believe that such outperformance is 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 spotlight a few companies that humbled the prognosticators over the past few trading days.

We can start with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). The leading online retailer bucked the real-world trend of storefront malaise, earning $0.52 a share in its latest quarter. That figure beats both the $0.48 a share it earned a year earlier, and the $0.39 a share that Wall Street anticipated.

Amazon wasn't the only e-tailer to outpace the pros. Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) didn't drop the baton a day later, as shares of the closeout specialist soared 13% higher on Friday. The company posted a profit of $0.04 a share during the holiday quarter. That may not seem like much, but analysts were braced for a loss of $0.03 a share.

Revenue took a dip at Overstock, but that resulted from the company's refusal to squeeze its margins for sales' sake. Now that more retailers are going out of business, and manufacturers are stuck with distressed merchandise, Overstock and real-world liquidators like Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) should be sitting pretty in 2009.

Finally, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) posted a five-star quarter. The DVD-rental giant earned $0.38 a share in Q4. Netflix generated just $0.23 a share in net income a year earlier, and it was only supposed to score a profit of $0.34 a share this time around.

It's easy to see Netflix coming out on top. In recessionary times, staying in with a DVD rental is a great value proposition. It will be interesting to see whether real-world flick lenders like Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI) and Hastings Entertainment follow suit when they report next month.

Keep watching the companies that beat expectations. Over time, it will be a profitable 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.

Netflix and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. 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, save for Netflix. 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.