Had Jerry Maguire been an investor instead of a fictional sports agent, he might have become famous for yelling, "Show me the cash flow!"

Earnings come and go, and the green-eyeshade types can legally manipulate them to mask a company's true operations. Yet its ability to generate cash -- what comes in the register and goes out the door -- remains the preeminent indicator of a company's worth. In short, cash is king.

Below, we'll look at companies that have proven themselves prodigious generators of free cash flow (FCF) -- the amount of money a company has left over that it could potentially pay to its investors. We'll find companies that have generated compounded free cash flow growth rates exceeding 25% annually over the past five years, then pair them with the opinions of the more than 145,000 members of the Motley Fool CAPS investor-intelligence community to see which ones might have the best chance of outperforming the market.


Levered FCF 5-Year CAGR

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Almost Family (NASDAQ:AFAM)






Fundtech (NASDAQ:FNDT)



PetMed Express (NASDAQ:PETS)



Quiksilver (NYSE:ZQK)



Sources: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; Motley Fool CAPS. CAGR=compounded annual growth rate.

Generating copious amounts of cash doesn't make a company an automatic buy. But having looked at Enron's cash flows instead of its earnings would have saved many investors a lot of grief. Warren Buffett understands that the value of a company today is calculated by its discounted future cash flows, so use this list as a jumping-off point to dig deeper into the piles of cash.

Having come all this way as the greatest consumer-products company ever, is Apple about to lose that status? Within days of reporting the best quarter in company history, it unveiled its iPad tablet computer to lukewarm reviews, and the iconic iPhone lost market share to Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM).

The iPad underwhelmed Foolish reviewers because it lacked certain features that seem commonplace these days, like a camera, and because it was still tied to AT&T's (NYSE:T) splotchy network. The share losses for the iPhone might have been more surprising. According to the market researchers at IDC, the iPhone's grip on the smartphone market slipped from 26.7% to 19.2%, while RIM's first-quarter share rose to 44.5% from a little more than a third of the market in the fourth quarter. Palm also gained share while Motorola fell.

Investors were likewise unimpressed, with CAPS member Aedius expecting the stock to sag until improvements in the tablet are made:

Given Apple's reputation, I was pretty disappointed with the lack of features on the new iPad. As many others have mentioned, the initial release is not worth buying, even with Apple's "aggressive" pricing strategy. The entry level version will only be useful for browsing the web as the 16GB hard drive will not leave you enough room to download a large movie library for long plane/travelling trips. I expect to see the stock go down a bit for the first few months, but eventually recover coinciding with announced improvements for the iPad.

But maybe less is more. The rumors have long been circulating that Apple will be releasing a next-generation iPhone soon, possibly with Verizon Wireless, and consumers may be waiting to see if this is true before making their purchases. If those rumors pan out, it won't be the first-quarter numbers that are key, but rather those from the back half of the year.

Since some 92% of the almost 23,000 CAPS members rating Apple believe it will outperform the market, there's still a strong bullish sentiment at work, even if the stock has only garnered a middling three-star rating. You can jot down your opinion on the Apple CAPS page and lay out your case for its ability to generate even greater gobs of cash.

Follow the money
While these stocks have left a trail of dollars, it pays to start your own research on Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made, all from a stock's CAPS page. Head over to the completely free CAPS service and let us hear what you've got to say about these -- or any other stocks you think will continue rolling in the dough.

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Fundtech is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Almost Family and Fundtech. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

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