Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports?

I believe that beating market expectations is the biggest factor in a stock's ability to beat the market, so I look every week at three companies that have left Wall Street's pros with puzzled expressions. When companies have more in the tank than the analysts figured they would, capital appreciation often follows.

Home Depot (NYSE:HD) is the first outperformer we'll look at today. The home-improvement chain took a 2-by-4 to Wall Street, posting an adjusted quarterly profit of $0.35 a share. That was short of the $0.41 it rang up a year ago, but well ahead of the $0.29 that Mr. Market was expecting.

Home Depot is still in a bind, though. Comps fell by a sharp 10.2%. However, it's encouraging to see both Home Depot and rival Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) clock in ahead of analysts' predictions during a difficult quarter. Now if only homeowners had equity in their homes, then they could really dig into refinancing their way toward makeover projects.

Target (NYSE:TGT) is another retailing topper. The discount department store operator saw quarterly net income fall by 13% to $0.69 a share. That may not seem impressive, but it was $0.10 a share better than what analysts were targeting. They say that retail is dead, but you wouldn't know if from the latest wave of financial reports. Buckle (NYSE:BKE), Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO), and even Gap (NYSE:GPS) managed to beat expectations.

Finally, we have Perfect World (NASDAQ:PWRD) living up to its name. The Chinese online gaming specialist earned $0.61 a share in its first quarter -- or $0.58 on a diluted basis -- good enough to blaze past analyst estimates of $0.46 a share. Online games remain a booming niche in the world's most populous country, with China's youth gravitating toward immersive multiplayer experiences online.

Keep watching the companies that surpass 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.

Home Depot is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story and 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.