To no one’s surprise, a Nielsen study completed last November found that Americans are watching more TV than ever before: 142 hours a month, up five hours from the previous year.
You can easily understand that, given the number of TV’s here… more than one per person. In times of economic turmoil, people tend to stay home and hunker down in front of the “tube” instead of going out shopping… for things like TV’s.
So it was a surprise to nearly everyone that February’s LCD TV sales were 39% higher than the same period last year. This accomplishment is even more dramatic given it occurred right in the middle of the nastiest economic slowdown since the Great Depression.
And the blistering sales rise wasn’t just in the U.S., according to consumer research NPD Group. Sales in Europe were up 49%, China sales more than doubled at 109%, and even recession-ravaged Japan had a gain of 30%.
It’s all a great reversal of fortune for Corning (NYSE:GLW), the world’s largest maker of glass panels for LCD screens. Its shares have nearly doubled since last November’s lows, and the company now expects to report a first quarter profit.
Corning’s fortunes are closely tied to the world’s appetite for new LCD screens, as it supplies the glass for over 50% of them. Fully 90% of its net income now comes from LCD glass sales.
Even though overall sales of TV’s are forecast to decline 4% this year, sales of LCD sets are expected to rise nearly 9%. The reason is major advances in manufacturing techniques have resulted in set prices dropping like a stone.
By some analyst’s measures, Corning is already too expensive, trading at roughly 16 times 2009’s earnings estimates and 13.7 times those for 2010.
But these guys are ignoring the China factor. You see, China has a new subsidy program that promotes a widespread adoption of consumer electronics, particularly in rural areas of the country. And LCD TV’s are first on the list of things every Chinese wants to own.
Two of the biggest LCD panel makers in Taiwan – both Corning customers – are rapidly expanding their manufacturing capacity to meet the new demand driven by the Chinese subsidy program.
In a move to diversify its revenue stream, Corning is eyeing the possible purchase of the half of the Dow Corning venture it doesn’t already own. That venture owns 63% of Hemlock Semiconductor, an important polysilicon supplier to the semiconductor and solar panel markets.
Investors who want increased exposure to China, consumer electronics, solar and semiconductors, might want to consider a few shares of Corning. It’s shares could easily experience another double over the next several years, especially as the Chinese join the ranks of the TV watching world.