As yet another earnings season begins to draw toward its close, this Fool is taking time to pause and reflect upon stories that didn't receive as much attention as they deserved in the shadow of "bigger" earnings news from the IBMs, GEs, and Ciscos of the world. News like the earnings report from vitamin king and sometime Motley Fool Hidden Gems nominee Nutraceutical (NASDAQ:NUTR), for instance.

On April 28, Nutraceutical reported earnings that investors swallowed with all the enthusiasm of a patient taking a particularly nasty horse pill. In the aftermath of the company's announcement that first-half 2005 profits declined 14% against the year-ago period, Nutraceutical's stock price dropped 14% before rebounding somewhat. At last report, the stock appears to have bottomed out at about a 10% price decline.

Reasonable? In the short term, perhaps. Over the longer term, however, it's worth remembering that this company has been increasing its profits at an annualized rate of nearly 24% for the past five years. It also bears noting that Nutraceutical generated $15 million in free cash flow over the past 12 months and that it's currently trading for just 10 times that amount while holding minimal net debt on its balance sheet.

And speaking of cash flow, that's actually the tale I want to tell today. It's a story, incidentally, that you'll read nowhere else but here on -- because only two analysts even follow Nutraceutical, and apparently, no one in the mainstream press uttered a word about the company's news. You see, while earnings did decline in the first half of 2005, the more important metric of actual cash generated by operations, minus capital expenditures -- what we call "free cash flow" -- increased.

The first half of fiscal 2004 saw Nutraceutical generate $5.9 million in free cash flow, but the first half of 2005 saw that number rise to $7.6 million -- perhaps not coincidentally, a rise very close to the company's historical rate of increasing earnings. Those funds sufficed to help the company finance a sizeable acquisition and buy back $400,000 worth of its own stock.

Are those the kinds of results that call for a 10% haircut? If you're focused on the short term and married to GAAP profits, perhaps. But if it's real-world cash you're after, and steady long-term performance in an investment, Nutraceutical just might make for a healthy supplement to your portfolio.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares in any company mentioned in this article.