Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) released stellar second-quarter 2018 results on Wednesday morning and -- in contrast to its last two post-earnings declines in January and April despite deceptively strong results -- shares of the glass-tech leader popped 11.3% in response.

Now that the dust has settled, let's polish our spectacles to get a clearer look at what Corning accomplished over the past few months, as well as what investors should expect for the rest of the year.

Corning scientist holding laboratory glass products

IMAGE SOURCE: CORNING.

Starting with the headline numbers, Corning's core net sales grew 9.2% year over year, to $2.76 billion, which translated to a 10% year-over-year decline in core earnings, to $359 million. Thanks to Corning's ambitious stock repurchases over the past year, core earnings per share fell a more modest 3%, to $0.38. Corning doesn't provide specific quarterly financial guidance, but most investors were looking for lower earnings of $0.37 per share on revenue of $2.69 billion.

Corning CEO Wendell Weeks noted that each of the company's business segments met or exceeded expectations this quarter. He also noted that the company made "excellent progress" on its four-year strategic capital-allocation framework, originally launched in late 2015, through which Corning has pledged to return at least $12.5 billion to shareholders through buybacks and dividends while investing $10 billion back toward capturing future growth opportunities. Regarding the former, Corning returned $829 million to shareholders this quarter, bringing its capital returns to $10.8 billion since the framework was introduced.

Breaking it down

Corning also closed on its previously announced acquisition of 3M's communication markets division this quarter, providing a massive boost to its already large optical communications segment. On that note, optical communications sales during the quarter climbed 16% year over year, to $1.023 billion, thanks again to strong demand from data center and carrier customers. Optical segment net income also rose 17%, to $150 million.

Display technologies remained Corning's second-largest business, with sales climbing slightly from the same year-ago period, to $780 million, helped by the LCD glass industry's most favorable pricing environment in over 10 years. Segment profit declined 15%, to $192 million, though LCD glass price declines continued to moderate.

At specialty materials, sales climbed 2% year over year, to $343 million, above expectations on the back of higher-than-anticipated Gorilla Glass shipments as OEMs start to ramp their respective second-half product releases. Still, segment profit fell 9%, to $64 million. 

Environmental technologies sales rose 21%, to $317 million, led by a combination of growth in ceramic substrates for both the automotive and diesel market, as well as higher sales of its newer gasoline particulate filters as OEMs ramp up for the adoption of new European regulations this fall. Environmental segment net income soared 42%, to $54 million.

Finally, life sciences product sales grew 11%, to $245 million, outpacing the broader industry's growth. Life sciences net income grew 41%, to $31 million, driven by sales leverage and manufacturing improvements.

Looking ahead

Better yet, Corning now believes that full-year 2018 sales will climb 10% year over year, to $11.3 billion, marking a $300 million increase from its previous outlook. Corning also anticipates margins will expand in the second half of the year. Weeks explained:

Optical Communications, Specialty Materials, Environmental Technologies, and Life Sciences segments are all expected to continue to grow, and the pricing environment in Display Technologies is the best in more than a decade. Several of our largest capacity expansion projects have exited the start-up phase, and production and efficiency rates are climbing. We expect a step-change in sales and profitability in the third quarter, and we plan to build on that going forward.

If that wasn't enough, Corning elaborated on its longer-term goals, including achieving $5 billion in annual Optical sales by 2020, doubling mobile consumer electronics sales "over the next several years," building its gasoline particulate filter operations into a $500 million annual business, maintaining stable returns and winning emerging categories in display, and fostering the pharmaceutical packaging business enabled by the Valor Glass product it unveiled around this time last year.

In the end, between Corning's top- and bottom-line outperformance, the broad strength of each of its segments, its future growth opportunities, and its impending profitability improvements, this report contained no points of contention for the bears to stand on. And it should come as no surprise to see Corning shares suddenly rivaling their 52-week high right now.

Steve Symington has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Corning. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.