Lately, plenty of small-cap companies in the industrial sector have not only reported positive earnings, but also exceeded analysts' expectations. Briggs & Stratton (NYSE:BGG) announced earnings per share that doubled estimates last week. Engineering equipment supplier Robbins & Myers (NYSE:RBN) topped earnings guesses, and Woodward Governor (NASDAQ:WGOV) also recently beat the Street. But not everyone belonging to the small-cap industrial club has been so fortunate.

The other side of the coin
For instance, H.B. Fuller (NYSE:FUL) wasn't loving life last quarter. The chemical maker incurred goodwill impairment charges of $87 million, suffered from unfavorable foreign exchange rate fluctuations, and still had to pay exorbitant costs for its raw materials.

And did I mention the weak economy? Demand for Fuller's chemicals and adhesives seems to have fallen by the wayside, and its stock has lost half its value since its September highs. After all of the non-cash charges, Fuller lost $42 million -- $0.86 per share -- on $350.2 million in revenues for its fiscal 2008 fourth quarter.

Down, but not out
However, the news isn't all bad. Fuller kept generating positive cash flow from its operations, as writing down impaired goodwill results in non-cash charges. Its fortified balance sheet has ample liquidity to provide some flexibility, with $80 million in cash on hand and $155 million available on a revolving credit line. Total debt last stood at $240 million, down nearly 30% from a quarter ago. Management says it has sufficient resources to take advantage of attractive investment opportunities should they arise.

The only problem with that statement is that it's tough to find any corporate manager who would tell you otherwise. But I think it's a good sign that Fuller's president and CEO, Michele Volpi, doesn't also hold a chairman's seat on the board of directors. In fact, none of its other executive officers are even listed as members of the board, which is a welcome sign of board independence.

I also like Fuller for its long-run prospects. However, given how things could get uglier in the near term before they turn around, I'm keeping my powder dry for now. In the meantime, I'm looking out for more companies like Clarcor (NYSE:CLC) that have dodged the bad economy and sustained their growth in good times and bad.

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Fool contributor Chris Jones has neither long nor short positions involving any company mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. Unlike Chief Justice Roberts, the Motley Fool's disclosure policy never stutters.