Corning and American Airlines: Poised for Equality-Driven Profits


Fiber-optic cable. Credit: Karen, Flickr.

Exchange-traded funds offer a convenient way to invest in sectors or niches that interest you. If you'd like to add some companies that champion workplace equality to your portfolio but don't have the time or expertise to hand-pick a few, the ALPS Workplace Equality Portfolio ETF (NYSEMKT: EQLT) could save you a lot of trouble. Instead of trying to figure out which stocks will perform best, you can use this exchange-traded fund to invest in lots of equality-minded companies simultaneously.

Why this ETF, and why workplace equality?
This ETF focuses on companies that support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality in the workplace by tracking the Workplace Equality Index, which includes companies that score 100% on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. This ETF offers more than just some warm and fuzzies: the Workplace Equality Index has handily outperformed the S&P 500 over the past three, five, and 10 years -- though the ETF itself is still very young.

The ETF sports an expense ratio, or annual fee, of 0.75% -- well below the typical mutual fund's fees. It's small, because it's so new, so if you're thinking of buying, beware of possibly large spreads between its bid and ask prices. Consider using a limit order if you want to buy in.

A closer look at some components
On your own you might not have selected Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW  ) or American Airlines Group Inc (NASDAQ: AAL  ) as equality-minded companies for your portfolio, but this ETF included them among its 160-plus holdings.

Corning Incorporated
Glass specialist Corning is well known for its tough Gorilla Glass, installed in more than 2 billion devices across some 500 product lines. Many are worried that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) will abandon Gorilla Glass in favor of stronger sapphire glass for its new iPhone 6, but Gorilla Glass isn't the company's main revenue-driver. (The glass is still likely to find a home in other smartphones, and perhaps also in lower-cost Apple phones.)

More important to Corning are bigger display panels, such as in big-screen TVs. After all, a 60-inch screen uses far more glass than a 6-inch phone. The rise of phablets and larger-screen smartphones, along with ever-growing TV screens, also bodes well for Corning. Management expects high-definition sets to drive greater TV sales in coming years. In the company's last quarter, revenue popped 26% year over year, while EPS grew 7%. Total LCD glass volume grew by low single digits year over year, and the company expected that to rise to high single digits in the next quarter.

Meanwhile, Corning isn't standing still. Its stronger, thinner Willow Glass, for example, can be curved and could prove useful to the solar energy industry, among others. It also has a new Lotus Glass for use in LCD and organic light-emitting diode displays. Corning is expanding the use of Gorilla Glass into the automotive and architectural markets and has a deal with Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) to make ultrafast fiber-optic cables.

Corning's dividend yield of 1.2% is appealing, especially since it has doubled in just three years. With its P/E ratio near 18 -- well above its five-year average of 11 -- Corning stock isn't a compelling buy at the moment. Interested investors might want to keep an eye out for pullbacks or add it to their watchlists.

American Airlines Group
The airline industry has long been a tough one for investors, but American Airlines Group, the result of a recent merger between American Airlines and US Airways, has more than doubled over the past year. It's the world's largest airline, with "nearly 6,700 flights per day to 339 destinations in 54 countries."

The airline has benefited from (and participated in) consolidation in the industry, which reduces competition and allows greater pricing power. Its revenue and profit margins have been growing, and while its bottom line is in the red, operating income is increasing, and net losses have been shrinking. Part of the problem is that American Airlines sports more than $15 billion in debt, which presents a headwind. The company spent more than $3 billion on debt repayments last year.

There's reason to be hopeful, though, as passenger revenue per available seat mile was up a solid 6% year over year in June, and management is forecasting double-digit profit margins. Increased efficiency, coupled with pricing power and ever-increasing fees, can do a lot for the bottom line -- American reportedly took in more than $2 billion in fees in 2013.

The stock's price-to-sales ratio is a low 0.4, making the stock rather attractive. Be vigilant if you buy, though, as American Airlines still faces the usual challenges (empty seats, bad weather, etc.) as well as meaningful competition -- which is seeing an opportunity as the major airlines focus on capacity discipline instead of capacity expansion.

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