-- Zsa Zsa Gabor, actress

Put like that, Darling International (AMEX:DAR) sounds downright spectacular, doesn't it? But, when it comes to disgusting businesses, cleaning out restaurant grill grease traps has to be near the top. Yuck, but one man's waste is another's fortune!

Does this trash-to-cash theme sound familiar? Just last Friday, this self-appointed trash-beat reporter was writing about Headwaters (NASDAQ:HDWR) turning coal plant trash into hard cash. It's a hot theme on Wall Street, too. Headwaters and Darling are up 64% and 53%, respectively, from a year ago.

Darling, a $250 million micro cap, also provides recycling and rendering services in which animal and food waste products are turned into useful commercial goods, including tallow, protein meals (meat and bone meal), and yellow grease. These intermediaries work their way into soaps, paints, plastics, and many other products.

The company had an outstanding 2003. Net sales increased 24%, net income almost doubled, and some debt was retired early. Strong finished goods prices (remember, this is a commodity business) produced strong earning. The good news continued into the second quarter as net sales grew 17% and net income sprinted 41%.

After the market closed yesterday, the company reported "solid third-quarter" results. Sales decreased 1% -- not exactly what I'd call "solid." Net income jumped 70%, but that was aided significantly by a one-time gain from an insurance settlement.

In September 2003, Darling decided not to sell itself. The results since then have verified that this decision made a lot of sense (cents too). The company's operating margins, at 10%, exceed the 6% average found in the food-processing industry.

The market has sent the stock down 7% this morning because the double-digit sales gains have stopped -- at least for now. While the company's finished products may work their way into soaps, detergents, and shampoos at Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), the company's commodity roots keep its stock price reasonable. The one analyst who follows the company expects 2005 earnings of $0.43 a share -- or eight times forward earnings.

Darling (love that name!) may be making a living off the hot, greasy, fatty mess at local restaurant grills, but its building balance-sheet strength and solid profitability is worth considering. A suitor just might find this waste-to-cash business too tempting to pass up.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned but does love cheap, ugly businesses that generate hard cash.