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Corning Ups the Ante, Again

Jonathan Heller

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- This past October, I bemoaned the fact that the market was all but ignoring good news from Corning which had recently raised its quarterly dividend 20%. On the day that increase was announced, shares actually fell 2% as I recall. Well, that 9 cent dividend lasted but two quarters before there was yet another change.

Last month, Corning raised the dividend another penny to 10 cents. In case you are keeping score that means the company doubled its dividend in the past seven quarters, and the stock yields a solid 2.7%. Interestingly, that's the same indicated yield I reported in my previous column after the October dividend increase, which is due to the fact that shares have risen more than 19% during that period. That's perhaps not all that impressive when you consider that the S&P 500 has risen 14% in the same timeframe, but at the very least, it might mean that investors are taking notice of Corning.

Corning Dividend data by YCharts

Corning is a stock that I probably would not have even looked at several years ago. It was a participant in the great tech bubble, when shares exceeded $113 in August 2000, before falling to $1.50 just two years later. But as sometimes happens, former high flyers that fall on hard times can regroup, and right the ship over time. When that happens, they are sometimes ignored by the investors who at one time owned them as growth plays, and, if the fundamentals are sound, can be embraced by the value crowd.

Corning data by YCharts

When I look at Corning, I see a company with a solid balance sheet. The company ended the first quarter with $5.78 billion or $3.92 per share in cash and short-term investments. Total debt stands at $2.9 billion, which is down from about $3.5 billion at the end of 2012, and the debt to equity ratio is just 13.4%. Corning trades for just 1.12 times tangible book value per share.

I also see a company with solid net margins; Corning bottom-lined 22.3% of revenue during 2012, and 27.2% for the first quarter of 2013. While net margins have been higher in the past, I'll take a company earning more than 20% of revenue, trading for less than 11 times 2014 consensus estimates and yielding 2.7%, most any day of the week.

Corning Tangible Book Value Per Share data by YCharts

The dividend increases portray to me a confident management team, and given the company's free cash flow and prospects, there may be further increases on the horizon. I honestly did not expect the last increase to happen so quickly, but will take it.

So there you have it, a former growth darling that is now being embraced by some in the value community; which may be an investment related example of "one man's trash being another man's treasure."

At the time of publication the author is long GLW.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Corning Dividend Chart
Corning Chart
Corning Tangible Book Value Per Share Chart