In these heady economic times, Mr. Market seems to enjoy dogpiling on any stock that dares to fall short of analysts' estimates. To defy that trend, we're here to celebrate stocks that didn't merely meet Wall Street's predictions, but laughed in analysts' faces by leaving their miserly forecasts in the dust. The companies below have all soundly trounced earnings estimates by 20% or more in the last quarter.

Sometimes a company will be forecast to lose money, but will upend the analysts' apple cart by recording profits. You sometimes can't actually calculate by how much they beat the estimates (7th-grade math tells us we can't divide by zero or less and get a meaningful result!), but it's still useful to understand why they were able to exceed expectations.


CAPS Rating

Last Qtr. EPS Estimate

Last Qtr. EPS Actual

Est. LT Growth

Hovnanian (NYSE: HOV)





IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX)











The three companies above recently beat estimates, but that isn't necessarily enough to make their stocks winners. Analysts are notoriously lousy at forecasting results, and one-time items can sometimes push earnings over the top. Wall Street professionals typically don't include such extraordinary events in their forecasts.

Rather than focusing only on the past, we'll check whether analysts have a bead on future performance. With help from Motley Fool CAPS, we'll see which of the companies listed above will have the last laugh.

Laugh, clown, laugh!
Like a jolt from a defibrillator, the first-time homebuyers tax credit, the Fed's outsized purchase of mortgage-backed securities (which freed up lender capital), and exceptionally low interest rates resuscitated the real estate market this past spring.

Sales of new homes in March increased the most since 1963, while the sale of existing homes rose for the first time in four months. April followed that strong performance with a 41% jump in housing starts and a 16% surge in new permits. Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL) reported a 41% increase in orders last quarter, and Beazer Homes (NYSE: BZH) reversed a year-ago loss on a 49% jump in new orders.

Even Hovnanian was able to narrow its losses, but the party's coming to an end. We still have low interest rates, but the Fed stopped buying MBSs, and the tax credits expired in April. Hovnanian's results had more to do with sharply reducing declines in land values, rather than home sales. Home orders fell 17% year over year, and analysts are expecting a 30% drop in the third quarter.

This fixer-upper could quickly turn into a money pit. Highly rated CAPS All-Star watchmesoar sees Hovnavian toppling over, now that the government's life support is gone:

Homebuilders are built on an even bigger house of cards then before. Once incentives diminish and the reality of the economy sets in, homebuilders will feel the largest pinch.

Sunny days are here again
Government subsidies have been propping up the solar industry, too. With those benefits' anticipated sunset, wafer makers like LDK Solar and module makers like Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE) might not see the same robust demand they've previously enjoyed. Even with their discounted valuations compared to forward earnings, solar stocks might be facing a cloudy future.

Still, MikeBobulinski says LDK has a 50-50 chance of still beating the odds, thanks to macroeconomic trends in its favor:

My logic...rising oil costs, increased demand for green energy alternatives, solar is a proven technology, LDK while squirrely if one looks deeply into it is also pretty cheap. Not betting my life savings on this one, but am pretty sure this one will also rise over time.

Dim the lights
Thanks to Avatar's monster success ($2.7 billion in worldwide gross receipts), the 3-D movie phenomenon isn't going anywhere. IMAX and movie theaters operators Regal and Cablevision's (NYSE: CVC) Clearview Cinemas no longer have any compunction about charging through the nose for tickets. The risk is that a backlash will come as studios rush to the big screen movies that have no business being in 3-D (Shrek, anyone?), diminishing the experience and causing an eventual drop in receipts.

CAPS member FromTheBottomsUp has no fears for IMAX, though, believing that its special format will continue to resonate with moviegoers:

They tweaked the format and resolution for how the film is generated through the IMAX product and the company has done nothing but shoot through the roof. Now, with their foreign expansion into Japan, South Korea, Russia, France, etc AND the 20 movie deal they inked with Time Warner... 

Yukking it up
The market's rally, once mostly fueled by low-quality stocks, now drags most others along, based on lower year-over-year comparables. If you think there's some funny business afoot, let us know -- head over to Motley Fool CAPS and sound off.

IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.