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Corning Looks to Sustain Its Momentum

Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) is set to announce second-quarter 2017 results this Wednesday, July 26, 2017. With shares trading at a 10-year high after climbing more than 30% year to date as of this writing, helped by Corning's strong first-quarter report three months ago, you can be sure the market will be listening closely to see what the glass technologist has to say.

Let's take a clearer look at what investors can expect from Corning when its report hits the wires, and what the company should reveal as it looks forward to the rest of the year.

Image source: Corning.

Corning's headline numbers

Corning doesn't provide specific quarterly guidance for revenue or earnings. But for perspective -- and though we don't usually pay close attention to Wall Street's demands -- consensus estimates predict the company will increase core revenue by 3.9% year over year to $2.54 billion. That should translate to roughly 8% growth in core earnings per diluted share to $0.40.

The latter figure will almost certainly be bolstered by share repurchases. Under a framework outlined in late 2015, Corning has returned over $6.5 billion to shareholders (of a $12.5 billion goal through 2019) through dividends and repurchases, reducing its outstanding share count by roughly 24% as of the end of last quarter. That framework also calls for investing $10 billion in research, development, and engineering through 2019 to sustain Corning's industry leadership and drive long-term growth.

Breaking it down

Despite the absence of specific financial guidance, management does typically provide color on their broader expectations for each business segment. 

First, Corning told investors in April that it expected the LCD glass market and volumes to increase in the low-single-digit range from the first quarter. Declines in LCD glass prices should continue to moderate, which combined with the company's focus on cost management should allow Corning to continue stabilizing returns in its core display technologies segment. 

Corning's latest guidance also calls for roughly 10% year-over-year growth in its thriving optical communications segment. But peering further ahead, look for Corning to reiterate its full-year guidance for optical sales growth in the low-teens percent range -- a happy consequence of telecommunications giants making significant investments in optical fiber to build out their respective next-generation networks.

Next, and perhaps most exciting, Corning last told us to anticipate high-teens growth from its smaller specialty materials segment. This estimate could fluctuate, however, depending on the timing of device makers' continued launches of smartphones and tablets protected by Corning's ultra-durable Gorilla Glass 5 product. 

To that end -- for any skeptics concerned over the state of Corning's specialty materials business -- in May Apple announced Corning would receive $200 million from its new Advanced Manufacturing Fund. The goal of the investment, Apple says, is to help foster innovation and help supplement Corning's already ambitious R&D efforts, state-of-the-art glass processing, and capital equipment needs. In the meantime, the ongoing collaboration between the two tech titans appears to have positive implications for their relationship ahead of the impending launch of Apple's iPhone 8 this fall.

Next, environmental revenue should be approximately flat on a year-over-year basis, given Corning's balancing act between weakness in heavy-duty truck ceramic substates and healthy demand from the overall automotive market.

Finally, Corning expects low-single-digit sales growth from its life-sciences business. Though here, I'm particularly curious for more information surrounding anticipated top- and bottom-line effects of Corning Valor Glass, which is the result and ongoing subject of recently announced collaborations in the pharmaceutical packaging industry with Gerresheimer AG, Merck, and Pfizer.

The bottom line

Altogether, I doubt Corning's report will bring with it any great deviations from the expectations management outlined earlier this year. But living up to those expectations certainly couldn't hurt Corning's chances of sustaining momentum, given its impressive run so far in 2017.

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Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Corning. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.