Reporting earnings is more than just a quarterly corporate event. Like the recent midterm elections, the results help enlighten us about the collective climate of the entities we're tracking. If a company's bottom line manages to zoom past where analyst profit targets, it's a good sign that the thankfully misunderstood stock will continue to provide investing opportunities.

Let's take a look at a few of these beaters that humbled the prognosticators this past week.

We'll start with eCollege (NASDAQ:ECLG). I had written about the company last summer, drawn to the software facilitator of Web-based learning at a time when many campuses were expanding their online initiatives. The stock had come under fire in the latter half of 2004 after slashing its bottom-line growth prospects by 40%. Short interest ran high, and it seemed like an opportunity to cash in on the inevitable trend of conventional universities turning to companies like eCollege and Hidden Gems selection Blackboard (NASDAQ:BBBB) to help set up online curriculums, enroll students through the Internet, and securely broadcast coed grades.

I'll concede that eCollege hasn't exactly vindicated my upbeat outlook on the company as a turnaround situation, but it's definitely hanging in there. On Thursday, eCollege posted earnings of $0.07 a share on a 16% top-line spurt. On an adjusted basis, earnings clocked in flat at $0.15 a share, and it's on that basis that Wall Street was willing to settle for $0.14 a share. I won't applaud the contraction of margins for the period, but I can appreciate the company ultimately besting analysts.

Then we have Stock Advisor pick (NASDAQ:PCLN). The company that has successfully managed to expand its "Name Your Own Price" travel deal business into a full-fledged multifaceted travel portal took off from the tarmac again. The company's net income before stock-based compensation and acquisition-related charges soared to $0.72 a share for the September quarter. That was well above the $0.47 per share on a similar basis it had produced a year ago and the pro forma profitability of $0.67 a share that the market was expecting.

Priceline's healthy report contrasts nicely to the relatively lackluster numbers put out by rival Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE) later in the week. It indicates that sites like Priceline and Travelzoo (NASDAQ:TZOO) that often take a more gimmicky approach to creating travel-related sites have more magnetic appeal than their traditional brethren.

NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES) was another topper. The leading online gaming company in China posted earnings that came in 22% higher at $0.29 a share, or 32% higher, to $0.31 a share if you back out stock-based compensation. No matter how you slice it, the company beat out Wall Street and its $0.28-a share estimate. The move shouldn't come as a surprise, though, as the Rule Breakers selection has blown the market away in seven of the past eight quarters.

So, keep watching the companies that lap 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.

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.