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What to Expect When Corning Reports Earnings

By Steve Symington – Oct 24, 2016 at 10:41AM

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It doesn't take a crystal ball to know what the specialty glass giant will say when it releases third-quarter results this week.

Image source: Corning.

Corning (GLW 1.34%) is set to announce third-quarter 2016 results on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. With shares of the glass technologist up 10% over the past three months on the heels of its solid second-quarter beat, what can we expect to hear when Corning's latest report hits the wires?

First, while Corning doesn't provide specific financial guidance, management does offer some insight into both its overall and segment-based expectations during each of its quarterly conference calls.

Corning's segment performance

In July, for example, Corning told investors to expect its display segment to enjoy the fruits of 8% to 10% year-over-year growth in the retail glass market this quarter, while the overall glass market in terms of area is poised to increase in the mid-single-digit percent range. Next, sales from Corning's optical segment are expected to climb around 10% year over year, thanks to growth in fiber-to-the-home sales and data center demand. Corning's life sciences business should also maintain its recent pace of growing sales in the low-single-digit range from the same year-ago period. And finally, revenue from specialty materials -- which notably includes revenue from Corning's Gorilla Glass line of products -- was expected to be flat to down slightly from last year's third quarter, namely as a consequence of light overall demand from consumer smartphones and tablets.

Relatedly, I'll also be listening carefully for updates on customers' early reception of Corning's newest specialty materials products, including Gorilla Glass 5 intended for mobile cover glass (launched shortly before last quarter's report), the wearable device-centric Gorilla Glass SR+ (introduced in late August), and Gorilla Glass for Automotive (highlighted in curved display applications at the 2016 Paris Motor Show). In particular, the latter two could serve as effective applications to help diversify Corning's promising specialty materials business away from the ebbs and flows of consumer smartphone and tablet demand.

Corning's "headline numbers," capital allocation

On a consolidated basis, this should mean Corning delivers growth in revenue and earnings per share both sequentially and on a year-over-year basis. And Corning's gross margin should remain consistent sequentially from last quarter, at around 43%, while at the same time marking an improvement from last year's third quarter thanks to operating leverage and higher sales in both display and optical. For perspective, Corning's core revenue last quarter fell 3.1% year over year, to $2.44 billion, while core earnings per diluted share declined 2.6%, to $0.37. And in last year's third quarter, revenue was around $2.45 billion, while earnings arrived at $0.34 per diluted share. 

Next, earlier this month Corning declared this quarter's dividend will be maintained at $0.135 per share. But we should also listen for any updates on the company's ambitious capital allocation framework, which was originally unveiled around this time last year. Initially, that framework included a promise to allocate at least $20 billion in capital through 2019, including not only investing roughly $10 billion in the business through research, development, and engineering (RD&E), but also returning over $10 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. As of last quarter, however, Corning had increased its plan to generate and deploy over $26 billion to those ends over that time, including $12.5 billion allocated to shareholder returns and the remainder through RD&E. 

For perspective on the gravity of these investments, as of this writing Corning's entire market capitalization sits just under $25 billion. 

As such -- and despite dealing with persistent headwinds with moderate price declines in its core display materials business -- it's easy to see why the 165-year-old company is widely considered a relative beacon of stability in the often volatile tech industry. In the end, we'll have more clarity on the state of Corning's business tomorrow, but I suspect its actual results won't differ materially from the expectations management outlined last quarter.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Corning. We Fools may not 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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