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 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 160,000 members of the Motley Fool CAPS investor-intelligence community, to see which ones might have the best chance of outperforming the market.

Company

Levered FCF 5-Year CAGR

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Cabela's (NYSE: CAB)

62.2%

***

eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY)

30.6%

***

Fuel Systems Solutions (Nasdaq: FSYS)

53.8%

**

MBIA

50.4%

*

NCI Building Systems

107.4%

****

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, and 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.

A sizzling opportunity?
The recession is eating into leisure activities, and though most sportsmen can tell you there's always some new lure, stock, sight, rod, or gear to buy, Cabela's has found it's had to make do by selling less. Even so, despite tough competition from Bass Pro Shops, Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE: DKS), and even Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT), Cabela's has been able to turn in an enviable string of profits, this last quarter being no exception.

CAPS member Paramnesia1930 thinks the sorry state of the economy will continue to weigh on the sporting goods leader, but browningmmy believes it will be able to continue surpassing expectations through firearms sales:

There continue to be shortages for almost everything shooting and reloading. Cabelas and other like retailers are literally selling out of Primers, and Powder as fast as they can get them in. [T]he demand will continue to remain high.

That would be good news for Smith & Wesson Holding (Nasdaq: SWHC) and Sturm, Ruger, which some analysts feel are running low on ammo to fire off more growth.

Bid on this
eBay is another company that analysts think shot itself in the foot long ago and now probably couldn't find a PowerSeller to auction it off if it wanted to. But plenty of investors find lots of hidden value yet to unlock in eBay, particularly its PayPal payment service, as All-Star Capsperson pointed out earlier this month:

The value of PayPal has not been fully realized. As eBay swings some focus to the payments segment, I think PayPal will add a lot to the bottom line.. Stock has P/E of 13.65x, no debt and excellent gross and net profit margins. Historically they deliver well to the stockholder.

Some analysts have tagged PayPal's operating profits at near $1 billion next year, which if you gave it a valuation similar to a financial stock like Visa (NYSE: V), equates to a $12 billion price tag. Not too shabby when you add in eBay's minority stakes in Skype and its more mature auction business. The sum of the parts just might be worth more than the whole, and would argue for spinning them out on their own.

Crossing the lines
Despite interest from international partners in its alternative fuel systems, Fuel Systems Solutions says growth won't be nearly as aggressive as expected. See what Paramnesia1930 had to say on this one:

Depressed job market, debt laden consumers, rising tax burdens, corporate real estate, credit card defaults, and especially housing starts. The latter typically leads normal recoveries.

While it has managed to surprise analysts in the past and could do so again, the strong showing Fuel Systems recorded in Italy in 2009, for example, was driven by government subsidies to the auto industry. With those handouts drying up, a large part of Fuel Systems' revenue is at risk of doing the same.

Drive on over to the Fuel Systems Solutions CAPS page and let us know whether the alt fuel systems specialist can still rev its engine.

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. Why not head over to the completely free CAPS service and let us hear what you've got to say about these or any other stocks that you think will continue to be rolling in the dough.

Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on eBay.

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