Did Corning (NYSE:GLW) just try to spin us?

Reviewing the gigantic glassmaker's Q3 earnings report this week, I was struck by the company's multiple references to "sequential results":

  • Sales "up 6% sequentially"
  • Non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.42, "a sequential gain of 8%"
  • And of course, the "combined glass volume" that "increased 4% over a very strong second quarter"

All of which sounds good ... until you compare the numbers to what Corning was selling, and earning, one year ago. By that metric, Q3 saw sales slip 5%, and profits 9%. It got this Fool to wondering -- why the focus on sequential results, which everyone knows can vary according to seasonal fluctuations caused by holidays (especially since Corning is the big player in LCD glass, and therefore affected by supply-chain building for the Christmas sales season at retailers like Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Target (NYSE:TGT), and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT).)

Wondering ... and investigating. Want to know what I found?

Up until about Q3 last year -- when the financial crisis broke wide open -- Corning habitually compared apples to apples, and year-ago results to whatever quarter we were in at the time. This strategy shifted around Q4 2008 because of the fortuitous confluence of sequential and year-over-year results, as sales plummeted 30% by both measures. This helped Corning segue into emphasizing sequential results.

What're you up to, Corning?
Now, a more conspiratorial-minded Fool might think Corning is up to something here. That it's playing "hide the bad news," even as the economic crisis conspires to "hide the profits" from Corning. But I don't think that's the case. Instead, I think Corning's too busy peering through the telescope, looking for an end to the recession, to be bothered with spinning its results. And what does Corning see?

Sales are down year over year, sure, but they're starting to ramp back up. Profits ticked back up as well. And as I mentioned earlier this month, things are looking so optimistic in the LCD TV space that panel maker LG Display (NYSE:LPL) thinks we'll end the year with sales up 50% -- and Corning itself predicts 20% growth in 2010, year over year.

Foolish takeaway
I'll let others criticize Corning for changing the "rules of the game." Me, I'm just thankful for the good news. This recession was a nice place to visit and shop for cheap stocks -- but I don't want to live here forever.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Best Buy and Wal-Mart Stores are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.