It's not always easy being a 163-year-old tech company. But if anyone can pull it off, it's Corning (NYSE:GLW).
Shares of the glass maker initially fell around 3% early Tuesday morning, then turned positive after it announced third-quarter sales climbed 26% year-over-year to $2.649 billion. That translated to a 21% increase in non-GAAP earnings per share to $0.40, which makes eight straight quarters of adjusted year-over-year earnings growth. Analysts, on average, were only expecting sales of $2.63 billion to result in adjusted earnings of $0.37 per share.
Corning's Display Technologies segment saw core sales increase 62% year-over-year to $1.1 billion, driven by a combination of expected further moderation in LCD glass price declines, high-single-digit percentage growth in LCD glass volume, and continued synergies provided by the consolidation of Corning Precision Materials. According to management on the subsequent conference call, they continue to feel comfortable forecasting $90 million in synergies from CPM for the full-year 2014.
Meanwhile, Corning also saw healthy demand for its optical communications segment, where sales and core net income rose 7% to $698 million and 8% to $70 million, respectively. This was driven both by higher volume manufacturing efficiency, and higher year-over-year sales during the quarter in every region except China.
Environmental sales also jumped 25% year over year to $282 million, which resulted in the segment's core net income climbing 78% to $57 million. For that, management says, investors can thank a 41% increase in diesel sales from new regulations in China and Europe, as well as strong truck builds in North America.
In addition, Life Sciences sales and earnings were relatively flat over the same year-ago period at $214 million and $22 million, respectively. Dow Corning sales also rose an impressive 24% to $1.52 billion, which resulted in core gross equity earnings growth of 143% to $68 million.
Finally, Specialty Material sales were up 10% sequentially to $327 million -- exactly inline with management's previous forecast, by the way -- driven by higher Gorilla Glass volume and offset by expected price declines. Specialty Materials core net income climbed 18% sequentially, but fell 20% year over year to $52 million. Echoing his comments from last quarter, Corning CFO Jim Flaws noted this segment has proven a "minor disappointment" given "lackluster retail sales of media tablets, which we had expected to contribute more volume growth of Gorilla Glass." But don't fret just yet; we'll discuss more on this in a bit.
Here's what to expect next
All told, Corning generated free cash flow of $934 million during the quarter (up from $583 million in Q2, and $268 million during the same year-ago period), and exited the quarter with $6.1 billion in cash and short-term investments.
In what's now becoming old hat, Corning repurchased around $200 million in shares in the open market last quarter, and still expects to exhaust the remaining $183 million under its current repurchase authorization by the end of the year. Better yet, given the impending completion of that authorization, Corning's board has decided to accelerate consideration of future repurchases and dividends.
Management also upgraded their view on the LCD glass market, and now expect 2014 glass retail sales to grow 10% over last year. That's up from their view of high single-digits previously, and driven by mid-single digit growth in TV units and continued consumer migration toward larger screen sizes. For the current quarter, the LCD glass market should fall slightly sequentially, while LCD Glass price declines expected to further moderate. Additionally, sales for both Optical Communications and Environmental Technologies should be up by mid-single digits over last year, while Life Sciences should be consistent with last year's performance.
New and (dramatically) improved
Finally -- and this is where things get really interesting -- Specialty Material sales are expected to fall by low-to-mid teen percentage sequentially. Specifically, Corning says Gorilla Glass volume should be higher on a year-over-year basis as it was in Q3, but that this period reflects "the absence of new product launches that occurred in the third quarter." So much for speculation that Corning's inclusion in Apple's latest iPhones was unexpected.
That said, Corning also confirmed it will make good on last quarter's promise to launch its next generation of Gorilla Glass by the end of this year. Of course, they wouldn't spill all the details, but Flaws did say a Nov. 20, 2014, unveiling of Gorilla Glass 4 will demonstrate "dramatically improved performance capabilities over previous versions." Further, he later elaborated that customers are already integrating Gorilla Glass 4 into their newest products, and suggested the new version should help moderate further price declines for Corning's Specialty Materials segment.
It remains to be seen just how "dramatically improved" Gorilla Glass 4 really is, but it could certainly go a long way toward appeasing skeptics worried that this small-but-promising business for Corning could lose ground to rival materials like sapphire. In any case, that promise is helping stoke the fire under Corning stock today, and I think the market is rightly reacting kindly to this strong report with shares up nearly 2% as of this writing.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Corning. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Corning. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.