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Greenberg: Beware of Cash Flow Hype
08 Nov 2010 EST - CNBC.com
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More than 150 companies with market caps above $500 million that claim they have free cash flow—really don't!

That's the word from Ken Hackel, who wrote the just-published tome (and I do mean tome): " Security Valuation and Risk Analysis – Assessing Value in Investment Decision Making."

You should care, because free cash flow is the lifeblood of any company looking to grow.

And free cash flow was touted as a plus quite a bit in the recent round of earnings .

Hackel isn’t impressed. "The term 'free cash flow' has almost gotten to be like the old television show 'What's My Line',” he says. “What free cash flow should be defined as is the maximum amount of cash an entity could distribute to its shareholders without impairing its growth rate. Unfortunately, we've gotten quite a bit away from that."

The free cash flow definition most people use is operating cash flow minus capital spending.

But Hackel says that true free cash flow requires a lot more in the way of adjustments—the kind he believes most analysts simply do not do.

Among companies whose cash flow he believes are flashing red:

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