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Corning Concedes Defeat

By Rich Smith - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 8:01PM

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And therein lies a potential victory for investors.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Just six months ago, shares of Corning (NYSE:GLW) were lighting up the sky, shooting the moon, reaching for the stars ... choose your favorite metaphor for a stock price north of $27. Hopes of a digital future, HDTV for everyone, and two flatscreens in every pot had investors feeling no pain.

And then, the crash.

Today, shares of Corning hobble along in the high single digits, down two-thirds from their highs of May. They were hurt most recently by Corning's decision to disavow its earnings guidance. So yesterday's announcement that Corning is doing the corporate walk-of-shame was surely bad news, right?

Not quite.

On Tuesday, Corning made a cameo at the Barclays Technology Conference in San Francisco, updating investors on "where it's at" post-last month's earnings warning. LCD TV sales growth for the months of October and November was in the neighborhood of 30% in Japan, China, and Europe. No word yet on U.S. sales, but extrapolating from what's happening internationally, it seems likely that sales at major retailers like Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD), and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) will help to sop up the excess inventories that panelmakers like Sony (NYSE:SNE) have been accumulating.

Seeing these trends, Corning CFO Jim Flaws waxed optimistic: "We were encouraged by this strong performance in the weak economic climate. While the sales growth rates are lower than our original expectations ... [we have] confidence that there could be continued growth in this market next year."

If you want something done right ...
But don't think Corning's leaving this to chance. Rather than sit quietly and let the market happen, Corning's taking steps to dry up excess inventories on its own. The company is cutting capital spending (it predicts 2009 capital expenditures of $1.1 billion) and even pondering "permanent manufacturing capacity consolidation."

Foolish takeaway
For comparison, Corning laid out more than $1.5 billion in capex over the past 12 months. If cash flow remains stable, while Corning pockets the change instead of spending it on capex, we might well see Corning generate as much as $1.4 billion in free cash flow next year -- and a price-to-free cash flow ratio of 10.

Do I even need to say it? A 10 P/FCF ratio on a 30% sales-grower looks downright attractive. If you haven't done so already, it's time to tune into Corning.

Wal-Mart Stores, Sears Holdings, and Best Buy are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Best Buy is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. Now please sit quietly and don't interrupt while we read you The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Corning Incorporated Stock Quote
Corning Incorporated
$36.38 (-2.67%) $-1.00
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
$139.52 (0.11%) $0.15
Sears Holdings Corporation Stock Quote
Sears Holdings Corporation
Best Buy Co., Inc. Stock Quote
Best Buy Co., Inc.
$82.26 (-3.17%) $-2.69
Sony Corporation Stock Quote
Sony Corporation
$87.16 (1.22%) $1.05

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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