An earnings report is the equivalent of show-and-tell time in grade school. One by one, companies step up and tell us what they did over the past few months, and then the market reacts. Usually, Wall Street can just snooze through the presentations, because analysts are usually pretty sharp bean-counters. The key is to watch for the times when they underestimate a company's earnings power. Sniff around, and you may uncover stocks that will continue to outperform the market until the analysts catch up.

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 Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO). The bargain-driven general retailer earned $0.37 a share for its fiscal third quarter while the market was expecting only a $0.35-per-share showing. There's a little more to this story than meets the eye, though. It wasn't necessarily a banner quarter for the company. Net margins contracted, and net income clocked in just 6% higher. Sales, however, rose by 10%.

The key here was an aggressive share buyback that swallowed up 4 million shares and fueled a 16% spike in earnings per share. It's still a market-thumping victory for the chain, even if one has to wonder whether Wall Street was asleep at the wheel in terms of accounting for the stock buyback, or whether it was able to bake all of that in and figure that net margins would have contracted even more.

Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL) was another topper. The for-profit educator earned $0.77 a share, three cents ahead of where the market was waiting with its cap and gown. Going by the 94% surge in associate's-degree enrollments at the company's University of Phoenix online post-secondary institution, it seems the public still seems eager to be retooled. There was a slight 5% dip in new students aiming for bachelor's degrees, but investors may take comfort in assuming that many of those going for the conventional two-year degree may upgrade along the way.

Then we had FedEx (NYSE:FDX). The Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation saw earnings climb 25% higher to $1.82 a share. Wall Street was expecting the delivery giant to deliver only $1.77 per share to the bottom line. These are intriguing times for the parcel and package leaders like FedEx and UPS (NYSE:UPS). It seems that the push for electronic delivery that is serving technology companies like Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) so well aren't hurting the speedsters providing real-world deliveries.

So keep watching for the companies that lap expectations. Over time, it will be a rewarding experience for investors. It's the kind of surprise that market-watchers relish in the Rule Breakers newsletter service, where the average 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 not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.