Revenue was down. Net income didn't fare much better. Forward guidance is barely in line with the most recent results. But Veeco Instruments' (Nasdaq: VECO) shares were up big time overnight anyway. That's the nice thing about low expectations -- they're easy to beat. Does this mean a recovery is on the horizon for the beleaguered high-tech manufacturing equipment company? Let's dig into Veeco's latest numbers to find out.

Primed to finally perform?
By most measures, Veeco peaked in 2010 and has been falling ever since. Considering its customers -- LED manufacturers, solar panel producers, and hard disk makers -- that shouldn't be too surprising. The solar sector's doldrums are well-chronicled by the Fool's Travis Hoium. LED products haven't yet boosted the bottom line. And Seagate (Nasdaq: STX), at one time one of Veeco's largest hard-drive manufacturing customers, escaped devastating Thailand flooding in far better position than its largest rival. Of all the luck.

Added up, it's resulted in a thoroughly disappointing slide.

Sources: Morningstar and Veeco 10-Q filing.

However, it wasn't current trends buoying the stock last night. Analysts thought so little of Veeco's prospects that they underestimated its final revenue tally by an average of $15.6 million, and earnings per share by $0.23. Forward projections for the second quarter also clocked in well north of analysts' expectations, particularly on the bottom line.

What happens next?
Veeco continues to pin its hopes on LED manufacturers' renewed efforts, as much of CEO John Peeler's remarks focused on that segment. He pointed out a 19% sequential improvement in LED-manufacturer orders, which was unfortunately offset by a huge 62% sequential plunge in hard-drive-related bookings. He sees "positive trends" in LED lighting, a nice (if vague) sentiment. The segment will have to pick up whatever slack might come from withering solar-manufacturer orders, and Veeco must still beat back Cree's (Nasdaq: CREE) efforts to dominate the same sector.

Deutsche Bank analysts recently upgraded Veeco as well as industry rival Aixtron (Nasdaq: AIXG), and Veeco is still far cheaper than either Aixtron or Cree. It's still a bit of an investment gamble given LED uncertainties, but if you feel confident in the industry's long-term revival, Veeco is by far the most reasonably priced choice. Is it the best choice? It's pretty hard to tell:

VECO Revenues TTM Chart

VECO Revenues TTM data by YCharts.

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Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.