Why Corning, Inc. Just Cracked Earnings Expectations (Again)

By Markets Fool.com

Corning'ssecond quarter results might be mixed relative to analysts' estimates, but the 164-year-old company has never shown much regard to Wall Street's short-term expectations, anyway.

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On one hand, Corning's quarterly core net sales only rose slightly from the same year-ago period to $2.52 billion. On the other hand, that resulted in a 7% increase in core earnings to $522 million, and -- thanks again to Corning's share repurchase efforts over the past year -- 12% growth in core earnings per share to $0.38. Analysts on average, were anticipating slightly higher revenue of $2.54 billion, but lower core earnings of $0.37 per share. For the record, this marks Corning's fourth consecutive quarterly earnings beat.

"We began 2015 with a clear set of priorities to drive Corning's continued success," added Corning CEO Wendel Weeks. "Our second-quarter performance clearly demonstrates that we are executing to our plan."

Scratching beneath the surface
Corning's results would have been even stronger had it not been for ongoing foreign exchange headwinds, excluding the impact of which core quarterly sales, earnings, and earnings per share would have risen 3%, 11%, and 15%, respectively. Of course, it also helps that Corning authorized a new $2 billion share repurchase program, signaling its willingness to continue returning massive amounts of cash to patient shareholders.

But at the same time, Corning's operating segments largely carried last quarter's positive momentum into Q2.

Optical Communications led the way again, where revenue climbed 17% year over year to $800 million. For that, Corning credits strength in the hyperscale data centers market, helped by its acquisitions of TR Manufacturing in January andSamsung Electronics' Fiber Optics business in March.

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We also can't forget about Display Technologies, which was still Corning's largest segment even after a 12.5% year-over-year decline in core sales to $963 million. Even so, that result came amid an expected low-single-digit percentage increase in glass volume from last quarter, as well as continued moderation in LCD glass price declines as anticipated. Thanks to ongoing cost reduction efforts, core earnings from Corning's Display Tech business simultaneously fell a more modest 3.3% year over year to $290 million.

Next, Environmental Technologies sales dropped 9% year over year to $260 million, helped by demand for diesel missions products, and primarily hurt by the negative impact of foreign currencies. Meanwhile, Environmental Tech core earnings stayed roughly flat from the same year-ago period at $46 million.

Similarly -- and arguably the most exciting segment for investors and consumers alike -- Specialty Materials sales also fell 9% year over year to $272 million, primarily due to another expected decline in advanced optics. Meanwhile, ongoing strong demand for Gorilla Glass 4 drove solid mid-teens percentage growth in Gorilla Glass volume, while Core earnings remained steady at $44 million thanks to continued segment efficiencies.

Finally, Corning's Life Sciences segment saw sales decline 5% year over year to $211 million, with core net income down 5% to $21 million. Unlike last quarter, however, there was no mention of disappointing polysilicon sales within the Life Sciences business. This time, Corning says, Life Sciences' shrinking top line can be entirely chalked up to currencies.

Peer into the crystal ball
"Our advantaged products, leading technical innovation, and lowest cost position place us ahead of the competition," noted Corning CFO Jim Flaws. "It is clear that our strategy is working: We are growing earnings, leveraging innovation for future growth, and bringing value to our investors through dividends and share repurchases."

More specifically for the current quarter, Corning expects continued low single-digit sequential growth in LCD glass volume, as well as for "LCD price declines to remain at a moderate level [...], which would be the fifth consecutive quarter of moderate price declines."

At the same time, Corning also reduced its expectations for the LCD glass market, in part due to lower expected TV unit demand in Western Europe and Latin America, as well as slightly lower unit demand in China. However, that weakness should be more than offset by the global trend of larger television screen sizes. When all is said and done in 2015, this should result in annual growth for the worldwide LCD glass market in the range of 6% to 7%.

On a more encouraging note, Corning raised expectations for its Optical Communications segment. Here, both third quarter full year 2015 sales are now expected to increase in the mid-teen percentage range over last year. The credit, Corning says, goes to continued strong demand for its fiber-to-the-home and data center solutions products.

Meanwhile, Environmental Technologies and Life Sciences are both expected to decline slightly in Q3 from the same year-ago period, once again due to the negative impact of foreign exchange. And finally, Specialty Materials are expected to fall in the high single-digit percent range, as the "cyclical slowdown in the semiconductor industry" should more than offset a high single-digit percentage increase in Gorilla Glass volume.

To recap, Optical Communications remains strong, Display Technologies maintains its industry leadership despite the usual moderation in LCD glass prices, Gorilla Glass keeps propping up Specialty Materials, and Corning's other segments are weathering the temporary effects of foreign exchange. In the end, for investors with time on their sides to allow Corning's shareholder value-creating initiatives to compound their gains, this appears to be another quarter of solid performance with no big surprises.

The article Why Corning, Inc. Just Cracked Earnings Expectations (Again) originally appeared on Fool.com.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 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.