EMC (NYSE:EMC) is a strange duck in some ways. It's a deep-discount value stock that derives much of its actual value from a high-growth subsidiary.

For the fourth quarter, EMC reported sales of $4 billion, which is a 5% improvement over last year's $3.8 billion. Excluding one-time restructuring charges and the like, EMC's net income grew 7% over last year, and operating cash flow jumped 9% any way you cut it. Through the magic of modern accounting, you can fudge income figures to some degree. It's much harder to play games with the cash account, you know.

So from a Foolish perspective, the data storage specialist did everything right this time. The top line improved despite a tough environment that brought titans of the computing industry like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) to their knees. Thanks to efficient operations, non-GAAP net profits are growing faster than sales -- and fastest of all is the all-important cash flow trend.

The company's strength largely stems from fast-growing virtual server expert VMware (NYSE:VMW) passing on most of its success to majority owner EMC. The subsidiary accounted for more than $500 million of EMC's total fourth-quarter revenue. The workhorse Information Infrastructure division improved sales by a slower 2% year over year, to $3.5 billion.

All EMC ever does is to meet or beat analyst guesstimates quarter by quarter while Mr. Market watches the stock with a suspicious eye. Despite what I consider good news, EMC is down nearly 2% today while the S&P 500 is trending up. A stock that cost you about 17 times trailing free cash flow a year ago now goes for a mere 8.5 times cash flow

While growth is hard to come by when you're as big as EMC, it's the very definition of steady-as-she-goes safety. Buy hypergrowth stocks like salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) or Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) if you're into bungee jumping and skydiving -- but get value-packed companies like EMC and Motley Fool Inside Value pick Tyco Electronics (NYSE:TEL) if you might need the cash in the next couple of years. One of these days, Mr. Market will get the valuation math right.

Further Foolishness:

Tyco Electronics, Microsoft, and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. VMware is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares and covered calls of Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. We know what we're doing, and we'll show you all our "tricks."

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, but is a longtime user, administrator, and fan of virtual machines. You can check out Anders' holdings or a bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.