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 they'll upend the analysts' apple cart by recording profits. You can't actually calculate by how much they beat the estimates (seventh-grade math tells us we can't divide by zero or less!), but it's still useful to understand why they were able to exceed expectations.

Company

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Last Quarter's EPS Estimate

Last Quarter's EPS Actual

Estimated Long-Term Growth

Eagle Bulk Shipping (Nasdaq: EGLE)

*****

$0.01

$0.04

(28%)

Force Protection (Nasdaq: FRPT)

***

$0.22

$0.27

46%

Northgate Minerals (NYSE: NXG)

****

$0.03

$0.10

41%

Source: Yahoo.com.

Nonetheless, beating estimates isn't enough to make a stock a winner. 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 to see whether analysts have a bead on future performance. With help from Motley Fool CAPS, we'll see which of the top companies listed above will have the last laugh.

Laugh, clown, laugh!
The time looks right to invest in dry bulk shippers. China is poised to rip the face off Africa and will demand much from its mineral-rich bounty, and while much of the resource acquisition centers on oil -- CNOOC and Sinopec are angling to suck Ghana dry -- China's also negotiating for mineral rights there to help break its tether to Vale (Nasdaq: VALE), Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP), and BHP Billiton.

Enter the dry bulk shippers. China is the world's largest importer of iron ore, and its rapacious appetite for natural resources means Eagle Bulk Shipping, Navios Maritime (NYSE: NM), and Excel Maritime (NYSE: EXM) will find plenty of business for their vessels, eliminating the excess capacity that has led to an otherwise floundering industry.

CAPS member valunvesthere is looking for a rebound in economies beyond just China to boost Eagle's prospects: "Betting on a global economic recovery within 2010. Demand for resources and energy will first feel the effect than manufacturing and construction."

When less is more
Being a "full-service survivability solutions provider" might not have the same cachet as building big, hulking mine-resistant vehicles for the Defense Department, but it's sure becoming a lot more profitable for Force Protection.

Through contracts such as the $82 million one it secured earlier this month for supplying independent suspension systems for Cougar vehicles, the defense contractor went on the offensive and grew revenues by 19% last year. More importantly, it generated an 85% increase in free cash flow over the year-ago period. The stock is trading at a fraction of its sales, and when compared to its growth prospects, its price looks darn cheap.

With more than 900 CAPS members weighing in on Force Protection, 93% have said they see it beating the market. I tend to agree with their viewpoint and have marked the contractor to outperform on the Force Protection CAPS page. Head over there and defend your own outlook on its survivability.

The gold coast
Northgate Minerals might not benefit from China's plundering of its gold fields or the government's funneling of contracts to it, but the junior gold miner has an enviable financial position that will allow it to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. Little debt and lots of cash make a company healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Although CAPS member Simbalion200 admits he's not much of a fan of mining companies he does appreciate Northgate's capabilities and plans for the future.

The company mines gold and copper at its Kemess South open pit mine in British Columbia. Northgate produces some 350,000 ounces of gold and around 50 million pounds of copper annually from there and other properties. Its Young-Davidson gold mining property, in the Timmins region of Ontario, is scheduled to begin production in 2011.

It might be worth your while to dig deep on the Northgate Minerals CAPS page for additional nuggets of wisdom.

Yucking it up
The market's rally has changed from being mostly fueled by low-quality stocks to dragging 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.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.