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 it 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-Yr
CAGR, %

CAPS Rating 
(out of 5)

Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR)

206.4%

****

Chiquita Brands (NYSE: CQB)

30.7%

***

MGIC Investment (NYSE: MTG)

28.7%

*

Source: 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.

A sizzling opportunity?
There's no slow boat to China when it comes to economic growth, it seems. It's devouring an ever-larger percentage of the world's resources and the government has no plans to abate its stimulus spending. As a result, China anticipates 8% economic growth this year, which means we're going to see Alpha Natural Resources, Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK), Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE) and other coal producers direct a lot more of their output toward such developing economies.

Coal may be a dirty word to the Obama administration, whose EPA wants to impose limits on so-called greenhouse gases, but China has no such hangups, even if it gives conflicting signals about how it will handle a red hot economy. That makes it difficult at times for investors to assess how to play an investment there, but earlier this year CAPS member hotsoul thought that was just one factor that worked against Alpha:

coal is dirty energy~
end of winter~
over-recovery of economy
china to increase interest rates/cool down economy

Banana republic
The fruit and vegetable market has been as slippery as a banana peel for producers like Chiquita Brands and Dole Foods (Nasdaq: DOLE), but as the economy staged a recovery, so did the consumer's desire to snack on fresh produce.

Dole signaled the revival back in February, when it reported that profits increased by half as it nearly broke even in its fresh vegetable segment. Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE: FDP) subsequently reported surprising increases in demand for pineapples. Thus, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Chiquita saw a 15% jump in sales for its bananas.

That bodes well for the future. CAPS member Stockjockey101 thinks Chiquita's got pricing leverage it can use to its advantage:

Short interest at 20 days to cover. Stock at under 6x EPS, with less debt than its ever had. Salad business has stabilized and banana business should be more rational with all 3 major players public companies now. Also Bananas are cheapest fruit in the grocery store, so there is room for mild price increases going forward. see little downside and major short squeeze candidate.

Crossing the lines
The FHA is underwriting dangerously high levels of new mortgages, without taking into account the credit ratings of those it insures. That's a stark contrast to the business practices of MGIC Investment, the country's largest mortgage insurer. As a result, MGIC is being forced to cut premiums to combat the FHA's growing dominance, even as it posts a string of scary quarterly losses.

Swing by the MGIC Investment CAPS page, and let us know whether the mortgage insurer is just a house of cards.

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.

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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 here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.