Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports?

I believe that the biggest factor in a stock's ability to beat the market is its ability to beat the market's expectations. That's why I look every week at three companies that have humbled Wall Street's pros over the past few trading days. If a company has more in the tank than the analysts figured, capital appreciation often follows.

We can start with AutoZone (NYSE:AZO). The auto-parts retailer revved up a profit of $2.82 a share in its fiscal first quarter, good enough to pull ahead of both the $2.23 a share it earned a year ago and the $2.66 a share that analysts were expecting.

It's been a good run for the auto-parts chains, since consumers need to maintain the cars they're forced into keeping around longer. Pep Boys (NYSE:PBY), Advance Auto Parts (NYSE:AAP), and O'Reilly Automotive (NASDAQ:ORLY) have all surpassed Wall Street targets in their latest quarters.

High-end athletic-apparel retailer lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) also jogged past the pros, with quarterly income soaring by 60% to $0.20 a share. Analysts were targeting a profit of $0.19 a share for the period. Shoppers are shying away from some luxury brands, but not this one. Comps rose by a healthy 10% on a constant-dollar basis.

Finally, we have Casey's General Stores (NASDAQ:CASY) growing its bottom line by 22% to $0.66 a share. Analysts figured that the retailer would grow only half as quickly as it ultimately did. It's easy to understand how a chain selling discounted groceries, gasoline, and general merchandise could hold up well in this environment. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) topped Mr. Market's estimates last month on a similar thesis.

Keep watching the companies that surpass expectations. Over time, doing so 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.

Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this column and 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.