2011: The Year Corning Cracked


In these waning days of 2011, there's a chill in the air and snow in the forecast. What better time of year to curl up by the fire and ponder: What went wrong with the stocks you picked back in January? What went right? And should you keep these stocks in your portfolio, or go out and find something new?

That's what we aim to do today, as we flip back the calendar, and consider the year that was at Corning (NYS: GLW) .

A few Foolish facts about Corning

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Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

What happened at Corning this year?
2011 started out well for Corning, with CFO Jim Flaws predicting "significant growth" in all the company's business segments across the year. Corning soon backed up this assertion with an announcement of 165% year-over-year growth in the firm's new Gorilla Glass product -- a scratch-resistant glass tailor-made for use in the newfangled tablet computers that Apple (NAS: AAPL) popularized, and which Samsung, Dell (NAS: DELL) , and Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) all rushed to put in their own mobile devices.

Then reality set in. Just months after Flaws made his bullish prediction, it began to look... flawed. LCD TV glass volumes continued to grow, sure, but at an anemic 5% rate. Reports of weakening demand began filtering out from LCD panel makers like AU Optronics (NYS: AUO) and LG Display. Corning began walking back its sales projections and bulls began pulling in their horns.

The news got worse as the year progressed -- overstocked inventories, supply chain "corrections." By the time all was said and done, Corning reached the point it sits at today: Its stock price shattered, its investors in despair.

Always darkest before the dawn of a new year
Or perhaps I should say "most investors" in despair. You see, the good news is that thanks to all the bad headline news this year, Corning shares have finally fallen back to buyable levels. Free cash flow at the firm, while not fully measuring up to reported net income, still looks robust at $2 billion annually. The dividend yield is a healthy 2%, and to top it all off, Corning has promised to return $1.5 billion to shareholders through share buybacks. With a price-to-free cash flow ratio that's just a fraction of the average valuation on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) today, I see every chance for 2012 to be a better year for Corning shareholders than 2011 was. (It could hardly be worse.)

I think Corning is a great pick for the future, but our analysts have selected a different stock that they believe is poised for tremendous growth in 2012. Find out which company in our new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." Thousands have already requested access and it'll only be available for a limited time. Simply click here -- it's free.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorRich Smithholds no position in any company mentioned -- though he'd love to buy some Corning just as soon as Fool disclosure rules permit.Click hereto see his holdings and a short bio.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Dell, Apple, and Corning.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.

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