I never met a profit target I didn't like. That's because there is something significant about the market's brightest analysts gathering around a certain profit number and holding it up as gospel. They miss. Often. That often spells opportunity for investors, especially when the companies make the number munchers look silly for guessing too low.

That said, let's take a closer look at a few of the companies that humbled the prognosticators this past week.

We'll start with Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN). The mutual fund and equity analysis publisher earned $0.22 a share in its fourth quarter. That was $0.02 ahead of what the market was banking on. The top line inched 25% higher with strength across all of its subsidiaries.

The shares have more than doubled since going public just nine months ago, and it's easy to see why. The company closed out 2005 by generating $41 million in free cash flow, a 63% improvement over the prior year's showing. Most of us associate Morningstar with its signature mutual fund breakdowns. Our own Champion Funds guru cut his analytical teeth there. But the company is also a force in equity research and advisory services. Even though the shares may seem a bit pricey here -- perhaps even by its own analytical admission if it were to cover its own stock -- paying 57 times trailing earnings may not seem all that steep if the company continues to grow quickly to feed the appetite of research-hungry individual and institutional investors.

Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU) was another topper. Yes, it's ironic that the company that some consider to be the Chinese Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) should produce its first market-crushing quarter just as Google was getting past its first quarterly report that fell short. China's search-engine market is at a much earlier growth stage than we are finding here. That's why a company like Baidu can post a 286% improvement in earnings with revenues soaring 168% higher. Analysts were expecting Baidu to earn all of $0.07 a share for the period, but Baidu, fueled by a healthy uptick in advertisers and an even more important uptick in the money that the typical sponsor was paying Baidu for promotion, earned $0.09 a share for the December quarter (or $0.13 a share before stock-based compensation charges).

Third on our list this week is NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES). The shares soared 14% higher on Friday after the Chinese company trounced fourth-quarter profit targets. Wall Street was holding out for bottom-line production of just $0.87 per share, but the online gaming specialist saw profits more than double to $0.96 a share.

It marked the fifth time over the past six quarters that NetEase has come in handily ahead of the market's prognosticators. With more than a million gamers playing its most popular online game at the same time, the stock has also been a big winner for Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers. The shares are trading 68% higher since being recommended in the growth newsletter service 14 months ago.

So keep watching the companies that lap expectations. Over time, it will be a rewarding experience for investors. That's the kind of surprise that market watchers relish in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. The strategy has paid off as the average Rule Breaker selection has trounced the S&P 500's market return. 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 own shares in Baidu.com. The Foo l has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.