Corning's Best-Laid Plans Shattered

When Corning (NYS: GLW) preannounced earnings earlier this month, warning of the havoc that "a significant supply chain correction, as well as some loss of share" would wreak upon Q3 profits, investors reacted strangely. Instead of selling their shares en masse, they rushed right into the lion's den (or perhaps the bear's cave) to buy even more stock. And wouldn't you know it? That turned out to be the right call after all.

Yesterday, Corning sandbagged any bears foolish enough to short it in anticipation of a Q3 letdown. Instead of "equity income" that was "at least 30% lower sequentially," as Corning had thought likely three weeks ago, Corning reported only a 24% decline. Instead of the $0.42 per share in "adjusted" earnings it was expected to produce, Corning delivered $0.48 pro forma. Then just for kicks, it pointed out that GAAP net income was even better -- $0.51 per share.

Pretty clever, Corning
And that's just the start of the good news. Corning's latest update reports the company is "regaining share" in the LCD glass market. At the same time, reports are filtering in of "higher panel maker utilization rates" -- suggesting greater demand for LCD glass from companies like LG Display (NYS: LPL) and Sony (NYS: SNE) , and better prices for Corning's glass.

And in an aside more helpful to investors in TV retailers including Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , hhgregg (NYS: HGG) , and Best Buy (NYS: BBY) than to Corning's own shareholders, Corning noted that because panel makers are working through a supply glut in glass, retail demand for LCD TVs is actually stronger than demand for its own LCD glass.

Good news is bad news
So was there any bad news in the report? (Aside from my continual harping on how Corning's free cash flow never quite catches up to its reported net income, I mean?) Actually, there is some bad news here, in a way. Earlier this month, I mentioned that Corning had authorized up to $1.5 billion in stock buybacks, beginning in Q4, when as I predicted at the time "when an earnings-inspired sell-off is most likely to commence."

So much for that idea. Instead of bad news, Corning gave investors grand news for Q3. Its stock is up another 4%and is trading at levels not seen since early September.

Ah, well. I guess we'll just have to wish 'em "better" luck next quarter.

Will Corning get another, better chance to make good on its buyback pledge? Will it plow right ahead, and repurchase shares regardless of price? Add the stock to your Watchlist and find out.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own (or short) shares of any company named above.The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Corning, Amazon.com, and hhgregg. We Fools don't 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.

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