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Why the Best Is Yet to Come for Corning Incorporated

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Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) is a company firing on all cylinders. In its 2017 first quarter results, all five of its business segments saw year-over-year revenue growth. Four of the five divisions-Display Technologies, Optical Communications, Specialty Materials, and Life Sciences-realized double-digit earnings increases over the previous year's results.

Investors in the company have been rewarded for its performance as shares are up 47% over the past year. Yet, while the rally in Corning's shares has been fueled by a broad-based rise in the company's various business segments, it is the fast growth of two, in particular, that might have investors most excited. These divisions, Optical Communications and Specialty Materials, just scored major deals that highlight the opportunities of the industries they each compete in and the large macro trends that might drive further growth for years to come.

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Verizon's 3 year, $1.05B deal for optical fiber

In the company's most recently reported quarter, its Optical Communications division saw sales of $818 million, a 34% year-over-year increase, and core earnings of $93 million, a whopping 258% year-over-year increase. This division supplies optical fiber to major telecom companies and internet service providers. With the need to upgrade their networks to meet the requirements of 5G soon , the demand for optical fiber isn't going away.

Spool of optical fiber

Verizon agreed to purchase more than $1 billion of optical fiber from Corning over the next three years. Image source: Corning Incorporated.

That's why it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Corning landed such a huge deal with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) mere days before the company reported its first-quarter earnings. The deal committed Verizon to purchase more than $1 billion in "optical solutions" over the next three years which translates to about 20 million kilometers of optical fiber that Corning will supply Verizon annually for the duration of the contract.

Corning's CEO Wendell Weeks said the company could sell even more fiber to companies if it had additional manufacturing capacity. As Weeks succinctly put it in the company's first quarter conference call, "If we had more, we could sell more." For this reason, Corning is investing in additional optical fiber capacity, which is factored into the company's four-year plan of capital expenditure spending of $6-7 billion. Because of the company's ability to expand its capacity for manufacturing optical fiber, Weeks said he expects the company to grow "significantly faster than the optical markets we serve."

If all goes according to plan, Corning's shareholders should expect to see further success in this segment. During the conference call, Weeks sounded especially optimistic when he stated:

Stepping back, all of our customers have the opportunity to benefit from our unique set of capabilities in Optical Communications. We are engaged in deep dialogue with major telecom players across the globe as they anticipate transformations in communications, education, healthcare, transportation, and ultimately, the way that we all live.Corning's Optical Communications market access platform, essential to realizing their vision, because of our ability to economically expand capacity and deliver innovative solutions.

Apple's Gorilla-sized investment

In early May, Apple Inc. 's (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook announced the inception of his company's one billion dollar Advanced Manufacturing Fund to spur innovation among American manufacturers. Just weeks later, Apple announced Corning would receive $200 million as the fund's first recipient. The money will go to Corning's Harrodsburg, KY facility where it manufactures Gorilla Glass.

A lab machine bends a sheet of glass while two workers in lab coats watch.

Corning scientists produce Gorilla Glass, the glass that is used for iPhones and iPads. Image source: Corning Incorporated.

Gorilla Glass is Corning's proprietary state-of-the-art glass that covers most of the world's smartphones and tablets, including every iPhone and iPad ever made. In the first quarter, the business segment saw sales of $300 million and core earnings of $48 million, respective 32% and 50% year-over-year increases.

Gorilla Glass 5, the latest and greatest iteration of the specialty glass, has seen a more rapid adoption than previous generations of Gorilla Glass which has translated into gains in price premiums and market share for Corning. With more and more major smartphone manufacturers using glass on the front and backs of their products, it's little surprise that Apple would take such an interest in the glass manufacturing process just before a major product release of its own.

Foolish takeaway

Neither optical fiber, which is the backbone of the world's connectivity, or Gorilla Glass, the medium we touch to connect to the rest of the world, are going away anytime soon. The recent deal with Verizon and investment by Apple highlight the many opportunities ahead for Corning in these two growth segments.

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Matthew Cochrane owns shares of Corning and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Corning. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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