Corning's Quarter: Glass Half Full?

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Maybe you know Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) for its revolutionary Pyrex kitchenware. Maybe you know it for making the fiber-optic cables that sling data around the globe at the speed of light. Perhaps you're more familiar with Corning's Gorilla Glass products, which protect the world's finest tablets and smartphones from physical damage every day.

Corning sold Pyrex long ago, but all of these views are essentially true to this day. The company is a uniquely diversified maker of all things glass and ceramic, and a surprisingly important player in our daily lives.

With such a wide range of markets at its table, how do you predict what Corning's third-quarter report will look like next Wednesday? Let's figure it out.

From a bird's-eye perspective, analysts expect Corning to report non-GAAP earnings of $0.32 per share on an even $2 billion in total revenue. That would be down from $0.48 per share and $2.1 billion, respectively, in the year-ago period.

Corning's management sees Gorilla Glass and display-panel products to lead the company's sequential sales growth. Sales will be patchy in other segments, given the highly seasonal nature of many segments. For example, the Dow Corning joint venture that the company runs together with Dow Chemicals (NYSE: DOW  ) shuts down some manufacturing plants as a seasonal basis, because the demand for its silicone products varies wildly. The third quarter is a slow period, followed by higher expectations in the upcoming quarter.

All that being said, mobile computing is a key driver of Corning's business nowadays. The Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone is covered in Gorilla Glass. So is the Samsung Galaxy S3. Devices in every price point are likely to sport Corning's LCD panel surfaces, sometimes right behind a pane of that beefy Gorilla stuff. Gorilla Glass is accounted for under Corning's specialty materials division; That plus the plain old display technologies adds up to over half of Corning's trailing sales -- and the display division alone stands for nearly all of its operating profits.

On top of that, telecom-grade fiber optics dwarf all of the remaining operations. That's another indirect play on mobile communications, since these high-speed cables carry your wireless signals from radio towers to Internet backbone connections -- and beyond.

So Corning's results will give you a glimpse of the mobile market's overall health. Analyst targets don't paint a terribly rosy picture, and management's comments were muted as well. Then again, this company is known to underpromise and overdeliver. Corning beat Wall Street's earnings targets in seven of the past eight quarters.

With the explosive growth of smartphones worldwide, many investors thought they would ride Corning's dominant cover glass to massive investment returns. That hasn't played out yet, as mobile growth has failed to offset declines in the company's core business. In this brand-new premium research report on Corning, our analyst walks through the business in detail, as well as the key opportunities and risks facing it today. Click here to claim your copy, and receive a full year of updates as key events unfold.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Check out Anders' bio and holdings, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Corning. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple and Corning. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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