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25-04-2012 20:55:00

3rd UPDATE: Corning Sees Return To Sales Growth For LCD Glass

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--Shares rise as company expects rebound in LCD-glass sales on moderating price declines, seasonal volume

--First-quarter profit drops on LCD-glass price declines but volume better than company expected

--Corning also expects continued strong growth in telecommunications, specialty-materials segments

(Adds segment revenue outlook to paragraph 8, analyst comment about Apple Inc. influence on Gorilla Glass in paragraphs 9-10.)

By Joan E. Solsman

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Corning Inc.'s (GLW) management expects sales of liquid-crystal-display glass to return to growth this year, after sharp price declines in the key product assailed profit in the latest two quarters.

The news lifted Corning's shares 6.1% to $14.17 in recent trading despite a 38% decline in first-quarter profit, as Corning said the price pressure should be far more moderate in the current quarter and volume should build later this year on normal retailer seasonality.

Corning, the world's largest maker of LCD glass for televisions, relies heavily on the product for profit. The display-technologies segment that houses the LCD operation represents about one-third of total sales but 89% of net income in the latest period. The segment has suffered as dim demand for television sets spurred flat-panel makers with excess supply to negotiate steep price declines. That forced Corning to make significant cuts to its LCD-glass capacity that it hoped would restore the balance, but it expected prices to remain depressed in the latest period.

Indeed, display-technology revenue declined 11% to $705 million because of the lower prices. But LCD-glass volume was better than the company expected. Volume at its wholly owned business was up by a mid-single-digit percentage sequentially versus guidance for flat volume. At its joint venture with Samsung Electronics Co. (SSNHY, 005930.SE), volume was down less than 10% sequentially, better than guidance for a low double-digit percentage decline.

Chief Financial Officer James B. Flaws said during a conference call to discuss results that the magnitude of LCD-glass price declines was "significantly down" from the latest two quarters. Primary drivers for the pricing stabilization were capacity moving more in line with demand and retail demand being "okay," he said.

The company said the second quarter's declines would be more moderate than the average of the previous two periods. That, combined with stronger LCD glass-volume growth later in the year because of normal retail seasonality, would bring LCD-glass revenue back to growth later this year, Flaws said.

However, Corning won't be bringing capacity back up significantly. "It's our feeling the glass industry overall is doing exactly the same, and we see no wholesale change to light up a ton of capacity," Flaws said.

The company also predicted continued strong sales growth in its smaller telecommunications and specialty-materials segments, which make optical fiber and glass for handheld devices, respectively. Telecom sales are expected to be up in a low to mid-teen percentage sequentially, and specialty sales are expected to rise 10% to 15% sequentially, driven by its Gorilla Glass product for smartphones and tablet computers.

In a note, RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Sue said Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) upcoming version of a television may help drive Gorilla Glass sales further.

The computer maker, which is frequently tight-lipped about new product introductions, has yet to officially acknowledge a TV product, but it is widely reported to be working on a television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content. Corning already makes the majority of the glass for the iPhone, Apple recently said.

In the latest period, sales in the telecommunications segment were up about 7.2%. In specialty materials, revenue rose 13%. Flaws said during the call that Gorilla Glass saw a surge in demand in March, which Corning believes was due to companies preparing for the launch of new product models.

Revenue at the environmental-technologies segment increased 1.5%, while the life-sciences segment's sales rose 7.6%. As part of its diversification effort, Corning earlier this month disclosed plans to pay about $730 million in cash to acquire the bulk of Becton Dickinson & Co.'s (BDX) laboratory-products business, snapping up a portfolio it said will significantly increase its presence in the life-sciences market. Corning also sees increased demand in its telecommunications business.

Overall, Corning posted a first-quarter profit of $462 million, or 30 cents a share, down from $748 million, or 47 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue slipped 0.2% to $1.92 billion.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 28 cents a share on revenue of $1.87 billion.

Gross margin fell to 42.4% from 45.4%.

The company said it continued to buy back its shares in the latest period but at a slower pace than in the fourth quarter. However, Flaws said investors shouldn't view that as a sign that Corning's repurchasing pattern is any less bullish.

Equity earnings were down sequentially, as expected, to $35 million in the latest period but are forecast to rise slightly in the current period, excluding special items, also on a sequential basis. The figure included profits from the company's ventures with Samsung and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW).

-By Joan E. Solsman, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2291; joan.solsman@dowjones.com

--Ben Fox Rubin contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 25, 2012 14:55 ET (18:55 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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