There's an old rule about accounting that my Foolish dueling partner Rick Munarriz seems to have forgotten when it comes to Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO). Simply put, it says, "Earnings are an opinion, but cash is a fact." Rick is absolutely correct that Coca-Cola's reported earnings have fluctuated all over the map for the past few years. As I pointed out in my opening piece, however, Coke's operating cash flow has absolutely skyrocketed during that same period.

Since so much of accounting is open to interpretation, it makes tremendous sense to look for companies whose operations are significantly stronger than their reported earnings would indicate. That is, of course, unless your idea of a good investment is buying the next Enron, Worldcom, or Adelphiabefore they unravel. Granted, if you buy after a company hits rock bottom, the aftermath of an accounting scandal might be a great (though high-risk) place to find a deeply discounted company. Tyco (NYSE:TYC), Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE), and Lennox International (NYSE:LII) are all firms whose accounting problems were ultimately fixed and whose shares have nicely rebounded as a result.

In most cases, as an investor, you're far better off buying companies like Coca-Cola. The most aggressive part of its accounting is the fact that its bottlers, like Coca-Cola Enterprises (NYSE:CCE) and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (NYSE:CCH), are separate public companies rather than part of Coca-Cola. With Coca-Cola's erratic earnings gaining the headlines, the strong cash flows buried in its conservative accounting make it an ideal pick for Motley Fool Inside Value.

The Foolish bottom line
As a fundamentally solid company that absolutely gushes cash, Coca-Cola is certainly worthy of any serious investor's consideration. Just be sure to look at its cash flow to see the true strength behind the business.

Like the idea of finding and buying companies trading for less than the true strength of their businesses would indicate? A 30-day free trial to Inside Value, just a click away, can get you started on your hunt.

Think you're done with the Duel? You're not! Go back and read the other three arguments, and then vote for a winner.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta owned shares of Lennox International. The Fool has a disclosure policy.