Sell Corning (GLW)

01/04/2010 2:30 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Here’s the dilemma that Corning (GLW) presents to investors right now. It’s one that we’ll face a lot in 2010 with all kinds of stocks.

The Wall Street consensus says that Corning will announce earnings of 42 cents a share when it reports fourth quarter 2009 earnings on January 25.

That would be a huge 223% increase in earnings from the 13 cents a share that the company reported in the fourth quarter of 2008.

So why not hold onto the stock? No need to sell just because the shares have hit my $19 price target, right?  At $19, Corning sells for just 14.3 times projected 2009 earnings. That’s without a doubt cheap for a stock growing earnings at 223%.

The problem is that it doesn’t look like Corning is going to grow earnings by 223% in 2010. Or by 123%. But more like 23%. And just about all of that growth will be stacked into the first half of 2010. In the second half of 2010 Deutsche Bank projects that Corning will grow earnings by just one penny from the second half of 2009. That works out to 1.2% growth.

(I think that as investors get further into 2010 they will see a lot of stocks with this kind of earnings growth pattern: Big growth in the first half of the year on easy year to year comparisons and meager growth in the second half on tougher comparisons with post-economic-bust quarters.)

The Wall Street consensus is that Corning will grow earnings by just 6.7% a year for the next five years. That includes the 163% projected earnings growth in the first half of 2010.

If Corning were set to grow at 23% in 2010 and if that were the long-term growth rate, then Corning would be cheap at 14.3 times projected 2009 earnings. The PE to earnings growth ratio (PEG ratio) would be just 0.62. That’s way under the PEG ratio of 1 that classically defines growth at a reasonable price.

 But if Corning’s long term growth rate is just 6.7%, then this is a very over-priced stock with a PEG ratio of 2.1.

At today’s price of $19.71, I think the stock trades with too much risk for the likely return over the next year. So I’m selling these shares out of my Jubak’s Picks portfolio today with a 25% gain since I added them to that portfolio on October 12, 2009.

If you are an aggressive trader, you can hold on until closer to the January 25 reporting date on the hope that the stock’s momentum will carry it higher and that a large number of traders will hang on in the hope that the company will beat expectations. (Or in the belief that you’re so much smarter than most investors who aren’t aware of the possibility that Corning’s growth is front-end loaded in 2010.)

If you are a long-term investor who follows my Jubak Picks 50 portfolio, I suggest you hold onto to Corning. The company has significant new businesses that make the 6.7% growth rate that Wall Street projects way too low over the long term. (Although in the near term, I think that rate is reasonably accurate since the new businesses will take time to grow to the size of the company’s existing fiber optic and flat screen glass businesses. Even a long-term investor, of course, could sell and then buy back during what looks like a disappointing second half of 2010.)

Full disclosure: I will be selling my personal position in Corning three days after this is posted.
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