In these volatile 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 trounced earnings estimates by 20% or more in their latest quarter.

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

Company

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Latest Quarter  EPS Estimate

Latest Quarter EPS Actual

Estimated Long-Term Growth

Hercules Offshore (Nasdaq: HERO)

****

($0.27)

($0.14)

15%

Metalico (NYSE: MEA)

*****

$0.08

$0.15

10%

Zix (Nasdaq: ZIXI)

****

($0.01)

$0.01

20%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

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 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.

Nothing to laugh at
For a brief, shining moment, it seemed deepwater drilling had won a respite when President Obama said new regions for drilling could be opened up in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the Arctic and Atlantic coastlines. Then BP (NYSE: BP) unleashed what might be one of the worst ecological disasters for the industry. There went the chance for Hercules Offshore, Seahawk Drilling (Nasdaq: HAWK), or Rowan Companies (NYSE: RDC) to profit from the new opportunity.

Shares of all three companies are down 30% or more over the past month. BP's stock has fared only slightly better, dropping around 29%.

CAPS member Teacherman1 has taken advantage of the discount because he still believes in the long-term viability of Hercules.

Did a lot of closing and reopening last week, both in real life and in CAPS. Still like the stock and still expect a great payoff. Just decided to take a small profit now and buy back at an even lower price to increase my upside over the longer term. Beaten down even further by the "BP fiasco", so decided to take advantage of an even better "buy price". Reduces my downside and adds to my upside. 

Lights out
When steel mills like Nucor cut back their output in response to the recession, prices for scrap metal plummeted and volumes fell for recyclers like Metalico. Today, it's a different story, and in the company's most recent earnings report, unit volumes shipped rose significantly for both ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal.

Pricing picked up when the economy looked like it was in recovery. But with Europe looking no stronger than a piece of aluminum foil right now and China throwing off signals that it might try to rein in growth, shares of Metalico have fallen 27% from their recent highs.

CAPS member chk2595 says Metalico will remain a good long-term proposition.

We need metals with an economic boom or bust. Mining them is so costly and bogged in politics and labor and [environment] that recycling is the better route for now and the future

A safe way to communicate
Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg would like to believe that security in the Internet age isn't a big deal. Yet as more people share more personal information on the social networking site, concerns about his seemingly cavalier attitude toward privacy is causing a backlash among some users. So much so that even Zuckerberg had to issue a mea culpa and promise to roll out new, easier-to-use privacy controls.

The people at Zix also know the value of security and privacy needs. Revenue from the company's email encryption services jumped 20% over the year-ago quarter, allowing Zix to record its first-ever GAAP profit -- $0.01 a share. Slim though it is, it marks a turning point for the company, which should experience greater growth because of new federal and state regulations regarding protections for information in transit.

Yet 30% of CAPS members who rate Zix believe it will underperform the broad market averages. Perhaps its changing financial fortunes will convince investors that it can produce these results again.

Head over to the Zix CAPS page and let us know your thoughts on its prospects.

Yukking 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 here, let us know: Head over to Motley Fool CAPS and sound off.

Nucor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick.

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