It's a wonderful time of year to be a steel investor, Fools. For months now, such venerable names as U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) and Reliance Steel (NYSE:RS), as well as smaller players such as Schnitzer (NASDAQ:SCHN) and Steel Technologies (NASDAQ:STTX), have been trumpeting banner quarters, record revenues, and profits that can be measured in multiples of their year-ago numbers.

Sure, there were holdouts. But yesterday, even debt-ladenAK Steel (NYSE:AKS) joined the party and announced it was profitable for a change. Also yesterday, fellow laggard Allegheny Technologies (NYSE:ATI) reported some net income.

Good news? If only it were as simple as that. You see, Allegheny posted some terrific numbers. Sales jumped 32% over the second quarter of 2003. The company earned $0.31 per share this quarter, in contrast to last quarter's $0.32 loss. All of those numbers are plastered right across the top of Allegheny's earnings announcement, and this explains the 4% jump in the company's stock price yesterday.

But Allegheny also posted some less than terrific numbers -- it just didn't put them in the headline. Now, Fools know better than to pay too much attention to headlines. In blatant disregard of our eyesight, we prefer to skip past an earnings report's headlines and head straight for the fine print: the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. What does the fine print say in Allegheny's case? Let's take a look at the balance sheet.

Allegheny's cash declined 20%, while its long-term debt rose more than 9%. Not good. Accounts receivable increased 36% -- so while sales rose, unpaid bills from customers rose faster. Inventories rose 25% -- slower than the sales increase, but not by much. You have to wonder, with news like this, whether yesterday's buyers read any farther than the headline of the press release.

Actually, Allegheny's subhead pointed out that $0.48 out of Allegheny's $0.31 in profit for the second quarter came from a one-time gain. (Hold on a second -- $0.48 out of $0.31! Doesn't that mean the company would have lost money without the one-time gain? That's right, dear Fool. That's exactly what it means.) You have to wonder whether these "investors" looked beyond the color of the ticker (green) on their Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) streamer.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.