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On Tuesday, shares of Corning (NYSE: GLW ) initially fell more than 4% (only later to recoup most of those losses to end the day down just 1%) after the company released second-quarter earnings.
But was last quarter really that bad?
After all, the announcement contained some solid numbers, including net sales which rose around 4% year-over-year to $1.98 billion, in-line with analysts' estimates. Meanwhile, Corning reported earnings per share which rose 23% from the same year-ago period to $0.32, beating analysts' expectations for earnings of $0.31 per share.
However, there's a lot more to Corning's enormous, 163-year-old business than simple revenue and earnings numbers, so it's a good idea to dig deeper to see how the company is really doing.
Luckily, on Monday I suggested three things investors should be watching going into Corning's report, so let's take a look at what the glass-maker had to say.
On continuing its upward march
First, I wondered whether Corning's results would support CEO Wendell Weeks' claims in April that the strong performance over the previous two quarters serves as proof the company has "successfully formed bottom and [is] beginning to march up."
Of course, while Corning's business segments are relatively broad-reaching, I wanted to see improved performance from its Specialty Materials segment in particular, which includes its flagship Gorilla Glass line of products.
Sure enough, Specialty Materials sales grew an impressive 17% sequentially to $301 million, driven by -- you guessed it -- strong sales of Gorilla Glass. Better yet, when all was said in done in Q2, the segment's core earnings grew by 33% over last year thanks to increased efficiency in Gorilla Glass manufacturing.
And Specialty Materials weren't alone in their strength.
The Display Technologies segment, which was previously hurting from LCD glass price declines, saw revenue increase a stronger-than-expected 21% to $670 million over last year with core earnings increasing around 11%, helped by LCD glass prices which fell at an even slower pace than Corning had originally anticipated.
In addition, Telecommunications segment sales grew 8% to $601 million, thanks largely to business from the National Broadband Network and its broadband build out in Australia this year. Like Corning's Specialty Materials business, Telecommunications benefited from manufacturing improvements to help drive a 62% increase in core earnings.
Meanwhile, the Life Sciences segment saw sales growth of 35% to $219 million, while its earnings doubled there primarily due to to acquisition of Discovery Labware late last year.
Finally, Environmental Technologies actually fell 8% from last year to $228 million. To its credit, however, management says last year's ET performance was "particularly robust" as demands for emissions-control products exceeded manufacturing capacity at the time. Even so, the segment's core earnings remained consistent with last year on operational strength.
Any color on new products?
Next, I asked whether Corning would provide any updates on some of its exciting new products, including its flexible, ultra-slim Willow Glass, or its recently announced partnership with View,, to advance Dynamic Glass technology.
And I certainly wasn't alone; Piper Jaffray analyst Jagadish Iyer asked management point-blank during Tuesday's conference call, "When do you think we can expect to hear more on the traction of Willow Glass?"
Unfortunately, Corning CFO James Flaws responded by bluntly saying "I think we'll talk more about Willow in the October conference call," without providing any more detail.
What's more, Corning didn't mention anything about Dynamic Glass. That said, perhaps it's still a bit early to expect updates there considering the ink has barely dried on the collaborative deal.
We did get one unexpected little nugget, however, as management highlighted Corning's Monday announcement of its latest Gorilla Glass product, dubbed Gorilla Glass NBT, which is Corning's protective cover solution for touch-enabled notebooks. Better still, Corning already has one big win with Gorilla Glass NBT, as Dell will incorporate it into its latest lineup of new products this fall.
On increasing your slice of the pie
Finally, I wanted to know how Corning's efforts to continue returning capital to shareholders were going. Remember, in April, the company both increased its dividend for the third time in 18 months, and launched a huge $2 billion share repurchase program. Then, earlier this month, Corning held its dividend steady at $0.10 per share -- but we still didn't know how much common stock it has reabsorbed so far.
Sure enough, the company repurchased around $242 million in common stock during the second quarter. When pressed further by analysts during the Q&A portion of the earnings call, management also elaborated that it expects "to continue to buy back in Q3 probably similar to (or) slightly higher levels."
In the end, though the market didn't seem particularly pleased with these results, long-term investors should remain encouraged Corning has performed exactly as it promised while maintaining its long-standing shareholder-friendly policies.
That's why, with Corning stock trading at just 13 times trailing earnings and under 11 times next years' estimates, I'm convinced its a solid buy.
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