Things may be looking up for titanium metalworker Titanium Metals (NYSE:TIE), a provider of the metal essential to making everything from Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) clubs to Boeing (NYSE:BA) aircraft. The company reported a huge reversal (in a positive sense) in its GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) profitability on Friday. For the third quarter, net profits came in at $1.37 per diluted share versus last year's $0.19 loss. This is on the back of a 44% revenue jump for the same periods. For the year to date, Timet's profits are up to $1.53 per diluted share -- again, quite an improvement over last year's $1.45 loss.

What's that? You want to know why in the entire first half of the year, Timet earned just $0.16 per diluted share more than it earned in Q3 alone? Well, primarily because we're talking GAAP here, and GAAP can be affected pretty heavily on occasion by noncash charges and benefits. In Timet's case, the effect was pretty noticeable in Q3, which brought the company an early Christmas gift in the form of a $15.5 million noncash gain in earnings from a preferred stock exchange. That $15.5 million made up nearly two-thirds of the company's profits for the quarter.

Which is precisely why this Fool, at least, prefers to examine companies' financial positions through the lens of free cash flow, which makes apples-to-apples comparisons much easier. It may also be the reason why companies such as Timet, which sport free cash flow statements that belie their GAAP profitability, don't go out of their way to publish the former. There's just no other logical reason why Timet, which has already filed its full 10-Q with the SEC, wouldn't publish the cash flow statement contained in that 10-Q alongside an income statement trumpeting its return to GAAP profitability.

So what exactly does Timet's missing cash flow statement say? Over the first three quarters of 2003, the company generated $44.6 million in free cash flow. This year, however, free cash flow went negative to the tune of $30.3 million, primarily because of growth in both the company's inventories and receivables, which rose 29% and 28% respectively over the past nine months.

The moral of the story: The harder a company makes it for you to find its cash flow statement, the more likely it's worth the effort to do so.

For more light-but-strong articles on the titanium industry, read:

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.