Though it hurts to see older products fading into the background, glass and ceramics manufacturer Corning (NYSE: GLW ) is sitting pretty at the crossroads of several megatrends.
That's the main takeaway from the company's first-quarter report. The display technologies division, which is Corning's largest segment by sales, saw revenue fall 11% year over year amid rapidly declining pricing. But sales of fiber-optic cables to the telecom industry jumped 7%, while the more advanced specialty glass segment that includes Gorilla Glass sales soared 13%. Life sciences gained 8% thanks to a string of recent acquisitions, and environmental technologies nudged up by 2%.
All these moving parts add up to a 2% year-over-year revenue boost, or $1.92 billion. Non-GAAP earnings fell 36% to $0.30 per share. If these numbers sound gloomy, keep in mind that the swooning prices on LCD glass have been obvious for some time. Analysts expected even deeper damage. Corning beat the Street's earnings estimates by 7% on a 2.6% revenue surprise.
The premium Gorilla Glass product will drive growth throughout 2012. It "remains the cover glass of choice for most smartphones, tablet computers, and other consumer IT products," says CFO James Flaws. Indeed, these strong but thin and light panels cover the screens of several Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) products, from the iPhone to the iPad, as well as high-end Androids from Samsung and Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI ) . Sales for high-end smart devices are absolutely exploding, and look like they should continue to climb for years to come. This is one way for Corning to ride the coattails of the most successful smartphones and tablets on the market -- we consumers have come to expect nothing less than Gorilla protection out of our expensive digital leashes.
The fiber optics give Corning yet another angle at the mobile computing boom. The actual smartphones and tablets rely on rich data feeds to keep us entertain, informed, and productive. High-speed networking is essential to this model. Sure, there's a wireless connection in there somewhere, but cell towers and Wi-Fi networks must connect to the services you want to use and that's where the fiber comes in.
With this two-pronged plan of attack, Corning is one of the best ways to play the mobile computing revolution today. In the handset market, you have to pick a winner and risk coming out on the losing side. A mobile chip builder such as Cirrus Logic gets you out of that vendor lock-in bind, and Cisco Systems gives you a direct line on the networking angle, but I can't think of a single stock that covers both end-users and network infrastructure the way Corning does.
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