WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The pace of a slowdown in LCD glass sales, and prospects for Gorilla cover glass as it migrates this year from handheld and tablet devices to high-end TVs.
The specialty glass maker estimates LCD volume in the fourth quarter "consistent with the third quarter," when glass revenue fell 5 percent to $645 million from a year earlier. Sales may have dipped 10 percent in the October-December period from a potent $717 million performance in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Nonetheless, Corning's annual sales of LCD glass could climb about 14 percent to $2.9 billion in 2010 because the business, its biggest by far, posted an unusually robust first half. The company commands more than 60 percent of the global market and the industry appears to be on target to churn out 3.1 billion-to-3.2 billion square feet of LCD glass last year.
Some Asian LCD-TV panel makers moderated production in the third quarter to avoid an inventory buildup, and Corning expects to report a more pronounced drop than usual in LCD glass prices for the fourth quarter.
Research firm DisplaySearch estimates 37.4 million LCD-TVs were shipped in North America in 2010, up only fractionally from 37.3 million in 2009 after annual hikes of 24 percent in both 2008 and 2009. In contrast, global shipments surged an estimated 31 percent to 190 million, analyst Paul Gagnon said.
Among factors he cited for flat U.S. sales were: The economy remained listless last year, retail price declines were not as steep as usual and two-thirds of American households already own flat-screen TVs.
In contrast, Corning said sales of ultra-strong Gorilla glass may have reached $250 million in 2010 and could rise steeply to $800 million to $1 billion this year. Sony Corp. said in early January it will incorporate Gorilla in a new line of Bravia TVs with frameless screens.
WHY IT MATTERS: With LCD-TV market penetration reaching 65 percent in the U.S., China will become the global leader in total TV sales — some 70 percent of them LCD models. Corning is planning to build an $800 million advanced LCD glass plant in Beijing, with operations to start in early 2012.
Based in western New York, the glass pioneer also makes auto-pollution filters and is the world's largest producer of optical fiber and cable. It employs 24,500 people.
WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by FactSet, whose estimates typically exclude one-time items, expect Corning to earn 47 cents per share on revenue of $1.6 billion.
LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: Corning's net income almost tripled to $740 million, or 47 cents a share, and revenue surged 41 percent to $1.53 billion.