A golden age for glass

Corning has always been a stock that you buy as much for its tomorrows as for its products today.

By Jim J. Jubak Jun 5, 2012 3:57PM
If Mr. McGuire were to whisper to Benjamin his "just one word" of advice today, instead of 1967, it would be not "plastics" but "glass." (You can check out that clip from "The Graduate" here.)

And the stock that he'd tell Benjamin to buy would almost certainly be Corning (GLW). (Corning is a member of my Jubak Picks 50 long-term portfolio.)

This is a golden age for glass. New larger, brighter, and more detailed displays require larger and purer glass. The world's army of mobile devices requires new tougher but thinner glass for screens. Reducing energy use in brighter LCD and OLED displays requires more uniform and flexible glass to use in a new generation of backplane substrates that allow the use of smaller and faster transistors.

And from new product announcements this week and from teasers about new products at recent company presentations, it's clear that these high-technology glass products will be followed by others. On June 4, for example, Corning announced that had shipped samples of Willow Glass
to device manufacturers that include Apple (AAPL) and Samsung. The glass is so flexible that it can be manufactured in a roll and wrapped around a device or a structure. The company is hoping that Willow Glass will start showing up in consumer products in 2013. Further out, according to recent company presentations, are such products as an anti-microbial glass.

Corning has always been a stock that you buy as much for its tomorrows as for its products today. It is one of the world's great research and development companies. Sometimes, frankly, the company gets ahead of itself, building out capacity for a new product -- optical fiber, for example -- faster than the market can ultimately absorb it. Sometimes the market’s uptake of a new Corning technology such as the extra-tough Gorilla Glass for mobile displays lags behind the company’s enthusiasm for a technology. And sometimes, and this becomes a real problem during a market slump, Corning convinces itself that the superior technology of its glass will keep sales growing even as the company’s customers are seeing their end sales drop.

Those moments give you your buying opportunities in the stock -- if you can wait on the sidelines as the company eventually comes around to rationalizing supply and demand. I think you’re looking at one of those now.

The big deal for Corning over the past year or so has been a global oversupply that has depressed the price of display glass. The company’s display technologies segment, which accounted for about 40% of sales in 2011, saw prices and sales slump as the global economic slowdown reduced demand for flat-screen displays, especially in the TV and PC segments. That slump occurred even though Corning’s proprietary manufacturing processes allow it to produce larger, thinner and higher-quality pieces of glass than competitors. 

That had allowed Corning and its 50%-owned subsidiary, Samsung Corning Precession, to grab more than 50% of the display glass market. But that market share -- and Corning’s high margins in this business -- didn’t protect the company’s display revenues when the global economic slowdown ate into consumer purchases of TVs and PCs and Corning’s customers stopped ordering as they worked down inventories.

That slump is forecast to gradually end in the second half of 2012, which should lead to stable margins by the end of the year and some margin expansion in 2013. According to Standard & Poor’s, sales will grow by 4% in 2012 and 7% in 2013. Margins and earnings should pick up in 2013 because Corning will have completed spending on upgrades and additions to manufacturing capacity.

Wall Street projects that 2012 will mark the earnings trough for this cycle at $1.34 a share and that 2013's projected 14% earnings growth will begin the recovery to the 9% or so growth rate that the company averaged over the last five years.

The stock now trades at just 7.6 times trailing 12-month earnings and at 9.1 times projected 2012 earnings. The company showed $6.8 billion in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet at the end of the March 2012 quarter and $3.1 billion in long-term debt. The shares pay a 2.45%
dividend.

At the time of this writing, Jim Jubak didn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this post in personal portfolios. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not own positions in any stock mentioned. The fund did not own shares of Corning as of the end of March. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of the most recent quarter, see the fund's portfolio here. 
Tags: AAPLGLW
8Comments
Jun 5, 2012 4:36PM
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I agree, Corning has a Clear Future! And it pays a dividend!
Jun 5, 2012 4:24PM
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Actually agree. GLW was clobbered last summer going from 20's to 11's but is now mending.
Jun 5, 2012 11:54PM
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A family owned and operated company is a very special and rare creature, especially in America these days. You really can feel some companies and, mainly by examples large and small, most swear that this kind of company feels you. The Houghtons were good parents, and Corning was about as good a child as any parent could hope for -- bright, smart, well-groomed, well-educated, forward-looking, always somehow both on top of and ahead of the curve, and humble. The Houghtons and Corning were practically one and the same, as were so many who felt blessed to have worked for the Houghtons and at Corning. 

As one of the original and premier American family companies and company towns Corning became an orphan in all ways when the last of the Houghtons attempted to retire at the beginning of the 21ST Century. The news was not good for anybody.

Corning almost went belly up the first time the Houghtons attempted to stop minding the family store. They say nobody understands family like family. Since 2010, when Jamie Houghton, the last of the Houghtons, retired again, everyone has been watching closely as strangers once again attempt to run a family business.

Sooner or later the child will start missing the steady hand of its parents again because its tough to be an orphan at any age. This, and in fact, nobody is at home anymore. You can feel it.

Jun 6, 2012 10:01AM
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How many times must we be burned by Corning?  It never really reaches its potential.
Jun 6, 2012 5:51AM
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market will be up tody    crazys got their A$$  kicked in Wisconsin    almost 20  points        bame is scaired he knows  what is coming in November    Senate too    All we hage to do is keep Holder and his Thugs down.  Get our clubs after the Blacks and not let them intimidate and old white people or young ones   Black panthers cant intimidate anymore    neither can Holder    let soldiers vote this time  keep dead from voting   illegals  and acorn from voting 5 or 10 times     Us workers will win by 15 points
Jun 5, 2012 10:43PM
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Well, if the gay community is investing in Corning, it's gotta be good!

 

What does Chihully think?

 

 

Jun 6, 2012 11:51AM
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I don't know that Corning has a future... but glass, plastic or some yet-unknown material will be extremely important and very soon. With global warming and a lack of integrity in business and politics, we'll need to be growing food while avoiding direct sunlight for eons to come, thanks to Big Oil Exploitation in the 20th Century.
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