Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports? Every week, I look at three companies that beat market expectations, since I believe that such outperformance is the biggest contributor to any stock's market-beating success. 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 China Finance Online (NASDAQ:JRJC). The provider of stock market research in China posted a profit of $0.28 a share during its fourth quarter. Silly analysts were only expecting earnings of $0.15 a share.

China Finance Online tempered its near-term guidance after the loss of a third-party data provider, but it's hard not to like a fast-growing company in China with roughly half of its stock price backed by the cash and equivalents on its balance sheet.

Investing in China is certainly risky, but many of the country's growth stocks -- like NetEase.com (NASDAQ:NTES), China Digital TV (NYSE:STV), and China Finance Online -- have been smoking past Mr. Market's estimates lately.  

American Public Education (NASDAQ:APEI) is another topper. The provider of online degree programs earned $0.27 a share in its latest quarter, ahead of both the $0.23 a share that analysts were braced for, and the $0.19 a share it recorded a year earlier.

For-profit educators like American Public Education and market leader Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL) have proven to be recession-resistant growth stocks. Wall Street has awarded the sector lofty market multiples, but it's still having a time keeping up. American Public Education has beaten analyst profit targets in each of its first five quarters as a public company.

Finally we have Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) inching higher to the summit. The ski resort operator earned $1.65 a share during its seasonally potent winter season. The pros were only banking on a profit of $1.28 a share. Vail talked down its near-term prospects, given the understandable crunch for high-end ski resorts in a soft economy, but at least it was able keep its powder dry during its previous quarter.

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.

Vail Resorts is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. China Finance Online and Netease.com are Motley Fool Rule Breakers 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. 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.