It's common knowledge to anyone who follows the market closely, that earnings season has very little to do with earnings. Rather, investors and traders focus on whether reporting companies manage to beat analysts' consensus estimates for earnings. And it stands to reason. With analysts' targets essentially built into the current stock price, the market's reaction to actual earnings numbers is what moves share prices during the reporting cycle. Companies matching estimates are left alone. Those beating estimates are generally pushed higher. And those failing to meet estimates are roundly punished.

The following stocks bear the incomparable honor of having beaten analysts' quarterly estimates in every quarter for the last four years. That's 16 straight "beats" in a row - and that's darn impressive.

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Aeronautical Earnings Reporter
L-3 Communications Holdings (NYSE:LLL) currently trades with a respectable P/E of 8.9 and offers shareholders an annual dividend yield of 2.3%. The company's in the business of developing and selling military technology systems for use in airplanes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The company's shares are down 18.5% year-to-date. This is a lot worse than the broader Aerospace and Defense sector, as represented by the iShares Dow Jones US Aerospace & Defense ETF (NYSE:ITA), which is up better than 9% in 2010. But that hasn't hurt the company during earnings season. L-3 has beat analyst EPS numbers 16 straight quarters.

L-3 will be reporting earnings on October 28.

Learn All About EPS Success
Strayer Education, Inc. (Nasdaq:STRA) trades with a P/E of 15.5 and pays shareholders an annual dividend of 2.2%. Year-to-date, the company's shares are down a whopping 36%. But Strayer is still scoring perfectly over the last sixteen quarters, with 'beats' registered in every EPS report over that period.

Strayer offers post-secondary degrees both online and in-class on 78 campuses in eighteen states. The company is currently embroiled in a lawsuit that alleges they failed to properly disclose to investors their programs' eligibility for federal financial aid. (To learn more about student funding, see Last-Minute Strategies To Help Pay For College.)

Industrial Earnings
Harsco Corporation (NYSE:HSC) is involved in providing industrial services and engineered products to clients globally. The company's shares have fallen more than 22% since New Year's Day. This is a great deal worse than the Dow, as represented by the index's proxy SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (NYSE:DIA), which is up YTD by almost 7%.

Harsco shares trade with a P/E of 17.9 and offer an annual dividend yield of 3.3%. It has also beaten the street for 16 straight quarters.

Bottom Line
Beating analyst estimates for four straight years is no mean feat. But as these three issues prove, it doesn't always translate to long-term price gains.

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