Corning Incorporated Earnings: Can the Stock Keep Climbing?

The glass specialist has ridden the wave of mobile devices higher, but will larger displays bounce back?

Apr 25, 2014 at 11:00AM

On Monday, Corning (NYSE:GLW) will release its quarterly report, and investors have gotten excited about the glassmaker's growth prospects in light of huge demand for its Gorilla Glass mobile device product. Yet as important as major device makers have been as Corning customers, Corning has to fend off new potential competition from sapphire maker GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQOTH:GTATQ) and plastic organic-light-emitting-diode display maker Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED).

Corning has been in the glass business for decades, pioneering the use of glass in technological advances like fiber optics. But lately, the display business has been a key to Corning's growth, as manufacturers demand durable products that can resist common wear and tear and provide protection for essential electronic components. As much as Corning has benefited from its Gorilla Glass line of products, though, it must remain vigilant in light of advances from GT Advanced Technologies, Universal Display, and other companies that would love to supplant Corning's position of strength. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Corning over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its report.

Glw
Source: Corning.

Stats on Corning

Analyst EPS Estimate

$0.30

Change From Year-Ago EPS

0%

Revenue Estimate

$2.30 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue

27%

Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters

4

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Can Corning earnings keep surprising investors?
In recent months, analysts have downgraded their views on Corning earnings, reducing first-quarter estimates by $0.02 per share and full-year 2014 projections by about 4%. The stock has performed quite well, though, rising 13% since mid-January.

Glw

Source: Corning.

Corning's fourth-quarter results showed the pressure that the glassmaker is under to produce strong growth. Even though Corning's adjusted earnings came in above what investors had expected to see, shares dropped 6% as shareholders focused on weakness in its specialty materials division, which includes its Gorilla Glass products. The division's sales dropped 29% and profits declined 42% as Corning shipped less Gorilla Glass to makers of tablets and smartphones than it did the year before. Meanwhile, even as sales of fiber-optic cable sent optical communications division revenue 12% higher, operating income dropped because of the low margins in that product. Strength in life sciences and environmental technologies wasn't enough to offset the negative sentiment elsewhere.

Corning faces challenges on multiple fronts. On one hand, major smartphone makers are looking at alternatives to Gorilla Glass, with new iPhone models potentially sporting greater amounts of sapphire. GT Advanced Technologies managed to score a $578 million deal to provide sapphire products that could eventually see greater volume in iPhones and other devices, and if the price disparity starts to decline, it could pose a huge problem for Gorilla Glass. On the other hand, the LCD market is incredibly important to Corning, as the sheer volume of glass involved in large displays is so much greater than tiny smartphones that large displays can move the needle much farther on Corning earnings. With projections that LCD pricing will continue to erode, Corning hasn't yet addressed this problem to investors' satisfaction.

Yet even as many look at sapphire products as the great competitor to Gorilla Glass, others see curved OLED displays as an even larger threat. Universal Display has come out with a proprietary flexible OLED technology that could eventually replace Gorilla Glass, but Corning argues that its Willow Glass product -- which is flexible where Gorilla Glass is not -- has a more environmentally friendly manufacturing process that also saves manufacturers money.

In the Corning earnings report, watch to see whether management comments on the upcoming iPhone 6 release and the mix of Gorilla Glass and other materials. Yet you should also look beyond mobile devices to see if Corning is making more progress on LCDs, as that industry has the most potential to make or break Corning stock.

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Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Corning and Universal Display. 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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