Glass Giant Looking to iWatch for Breakthrough

Masam is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Corning’s (NYSE: GLW) recent investor meeting disappointed most of its investors. Poor outlook for display segment, a persistent weakness in yen and instability in its Hemlock Division were some of the disappointing factors. However, bright prospects for Gorilla Glass and rumors like Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) interest in using Corning’s bendable glass for its soon-to-be released iWatch has sent bullish signals to the market.

The key takeaways from the meeting include:

  1. Display is expected to decline in FY13 and stabilize thereafter;
  2. TAM for cover glass is expected to double or triple by 2016;
  3. Telecom sales are expected to grow by more than 10% in FY13, with profits growing faster;
  4. Corning outlined plans for a "worst case scenario" for Hemlock, which could include exiting solar and a significant write-down; and
  5. The company is committed to generating shareholder returns via dividends and buybacks.

Display

Corning focused on its ability to achieve market stability entering 2013, due in large part to its new customer agreements. The company expects Display profits (in dollar terms) to decline in 2013 but remain relatively stable after that. The stability is said to be brought by increase in the market for TV displays (such as larger TV screens).

The company is also focused on its introduction of differentiated products, including Lotus (for high temperature, high performance applications like OLED) and Willow (extremely thin and flexible).

Gorilla Glass 

Corning achieved $1 billion of Gorilla Glass sales in 2012. The company believes the cover glass addressable market will double or triple by 2016. The key driver of growth will be touch notebooks, increase in smartphone sizes and increase in tablet proliferation.

Moreover, cover glass may find applications in new product categories, such as auto, appliances and architectural glass. In 2013, the company is also expected to release anti-bacterial, anti-reflective, and 3D (i.e. curved or shaped) cover glass products.

NYT and WSJ both have recently reported that Apple is working to make an iWatch. The new device is expected to utilize the new curved glass technology available at Corning (known as the Willow Glass). Apple has been fond of Corning’s Gorilla Glass that has been used in its iPhone and is likely to choose the Willow Glass for its iWatch. The bendable glass is said to bend as easily as a piece of paper in the wind without breaking.  Recently, RBC speculated that iWatch will add approximately $7 billion-$9 billion in Apple’s annual revenues.   

Telecommunications

Corning expects double digit revenue growth in 2013 and even faster profit growth driven by FTTH, bandwidth demands, and fixed/mobile convergence. The company highlighted carrier opportunities with Australia’s National Broadband Network as well as in Brazil and Canada. The company is also leveraged to data center traffic demand (25% of its Telecom sales) and recently announced consumer fiber products (Thunderbolt and USB 3.Optical).

Environmental

Despite a 3% decline in 2012 revenues, Corning expanded gross margins to 47.7% from 44.0%. Despite a soft European market, the company expects to grow profits in 2013 by more than 10% as it sees global regulations driving product adoption, specifically in the emerging markets.

Life Sciences 

After completing the acquisition of Discovery Labware in November 2012, Corning expects revenue growth combined with further margin expansion to drive double digit profit growth in 2013.

Hemlock 

Corning outlined its worst case scenario for Hemlock (a part of its 50%-owned joint venture with Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW)). Corning disclosed the Hemlock began losing money in 4Q12, driven by solar market challenges, aggressive pricing, and an anti-dumping investigation by China, which has resulted in frozen shipments to the world’s largest solar market. Corning expects more details by the end of 1H13. Under a worst case scenario, the company would:

  1. Exit the solar business and impair its assets (Corning’s share would be $700 million, non cash impact), and
  2. Resort to enforcing the take or pay nature of its customer contracts on an outstanding amount of $12.7 billion.

Corning believes that Hemlock can be restructured if necessary, which would not require cash from either Corning or Dow Chemical. Outside Hemlock’s solar business, Dow Corning’s exposure to the silicone market remains healthy and stable, and Corning plans to report it separately from the struggling Hemlock polysilicon business.

FX 

Corning prices all its LCD glass sales in Yen (and reports in USD), resulting in decreased sales and profits when translated to USD given the weakness in the Yen since late 2012. As a result, Corning plans to take action to mitigate the impact of the Yen, and is considering:

  1. More active but low cost hedging and/or,
  2. Pricing its LCD glass in USD.

Uses of cash 

Corning expects to generate operating cash flow of $2.6 billion in 2013 and reduce CAPex by almost 30% to $1.3 billion from $1.8 billion in 2012. As a result, the company remains dedicated to returning cash to shareholders. Specifically, it stated that it plans to increase dividends over time and repurchase shares. The company is also evaluating several minor acquisitions, but none as big as Discovery Labware (acquired for $720 million).

Foolish bottom line

There is no doubt that announcement of iWatch will be a big catalyst for the company given that it will help the company to improve its results for display segment which is current the weakest of the lot. Overall, the stock gives a neutral outlook (till the announcement).


AnalystX has no position in any stocks mentioned. 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. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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