Is Corning a Buffett Stock?

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As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. Thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.

We can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy Corning (NYS: GLW) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- but we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also reveal whether it's a stock that should interest us. In this series, we do just that.

Writing in a recent 10-K, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size, proven management, and a reasonable valuation, he demands:

  1. Consistent earnings power.
  2. Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
  3. Management in place.
  4. Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.

Does Corning meet Buffett's standards?

1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.

Let's examine Corning's earnings and free cash flow history:

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Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Over at least the past five years, Corning's profits fluctuated in large part with demand for its glass.

2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it is.

Corning generates a fairly high return on equity (17% over the past year, 27% over the past five years) while employing a modest debt-to-equity ratio of 17%.

3. Management
CEO Wendell Weeks has been at the job since 2005. Prior to that, he held other jobs at the company since 1983, including chief operating officer.

4. Business
Specialty glasses may not be the industry most susceptible to technological disruption, but it does require a fairly significant amount of technological know-how and research and development to stay ahead of the curve.

The Foolish conclusion
So is Corning a Buffett stock? Possibly. The increased rate of change in the market for specialty glasses could make Buffett somewhat hesitant, but Corning does exhibit several of the other characteristics of a quintessential Buffett investment: high returns on equity with limited debt and tenured management. To stay up to speed on Corning's progress, simply add it to your stock watchlist. If you don't have one yet, you can create a watchlist of your favorite stocks by clicking here.

At the time this article was published Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any stock mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Corning. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of 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.

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