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Housing Downturn Catches Up With Corning

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I have been contemplating buying a big screen TV to hook up with my hacked Apple TV that allows me to watch great international movies I download from the Jaman store. My current 32-inch Olevia is about to be retired and replaced by a newer, shiner version.

As part of my research, I have been spending a lot of time at Best Buy and Circuit City, comparing a vast array of TVs. The prices of really good TVs have tumbled. I was surprised how cheap the Sharp LCDs have become.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The sales of these fancy televisions are stagnating, mostly due to the ongoing economic crunch. The housing bubble kept people buying a whole lot of consumer gear to pimp out their pads. However, with money tight, now folks can’t pay for gadgets, much like they can’t afford their cribs. This has to be causing problems throughout the entire consumer products ecosystem, including television makers.

At the end of the food chain is Corning, a company that makes glass that goes towards making the LCDs that are in turn embedded into televisions sold by millions. The Corning, N.Y.-based company today lowered its financial forecast for the coming months. In a press release the company noted:

The company also revised its third-quarter gross margin expectation from at least 50% to about 47%. The guidance reductions are primarily related to lower-than-expected shipments of LCD glass in the company’s wholly owned display business….we now expect third-quarter sequential volume for Corning’s wholly owned display glass business to be down about 5% versus our previous guidance of flat to up 5%

CEO Wendell P. Weeks (one of the nicest guys I have met) noted, “We continue to see evidence of ongoing strength in the retail market for LCD TVs, a key growth area for the LCD glass industry. However, the supply chain correction, as outlined in our second-quarter conference call, is taking longer than we expected.”

I think it might take a lot longer than people think. We did an informal study of Craigslist listings for used LCD TVs in markets such as Phoenix, Sacramento and South Florida, which have been impacted negatively by the the housing crisis. You could pick up brand name LCD TVs between $260 and $1,000 depending on the size and quality of the screen. Now that’s seriously cheap!

I asked the guys from Pricegrabber to take a look at the LCD and Plasma TV pricing trends for this year and the results were pretty shocking: the price of such TVs is down from an average of $1,709 in January 2008 to $1,575 in August 2008. Those are disturbing trends and — like everyone else — Corning is in for a rocky ride.

The good news: I am going to actually get a really get a good bargain if I can postpone my buying decision for another month or so.

Photo courtesy respres via Flickr

10 Responses to “Housing Downturn Catches Up With Corning”

  1. @John I am not opposed to the higher resolution of HD, I just don’t see the need to replace a TV that works perfectly fine. The higher resolution is not a compelling enough reason to spend the extra money for either the extra cost of screen or the (extra) cost of content acquisition.

    I also do not want televisions to dominate the room, which is what most of the current televisions do. When the time comes, I will be looking below 4 inches.

  2. Had to stop at 46″. All of our rooms, like our home, are designed to be small and livable. If I went larger – in the corner location for our HD set – I’d start overlapping windows.

    For some reason, my wife likes windows as much as HDTV. I figure I can always go outdoors.

    Samsung LCD fan, BTW, Om.

  3. Dameon,

    It’s more about better resolution. I think where the cause is HD, the effect is that HD video actually looks great on bigger screens and you no longer need a separate room to house a monstrous TV. The reduced case size and better quality makes the bigger screen sizes accessible to a larger group of consumers.

    Computer monitors and graphics cards have gone through a similar evolution, just much quicker since there is no broadcasting technology dimension to worry about. I’d choose an HD TV over a standard def just like I would choose an LCD over a CRT for my computer.

  4. I don’t understand why people feel the need to buy these monstrous TVs. Seriously. Our house has two 19 inch RCA TVs from the early 1990s. One of them has lost three of the buttons on the face. The TVs still work. They are watched every day by members of the family.

    Until the televisions break or we can no longer use them because the cable companies stop providing analog channels, we have no intention of replacing these TVs. Let the prices keep coming down!

  5. Om,

    Good luck with the search, however I must warn you. For the second time this year, my Zenith 50″ plasma shocked me with a loud “POP” followed by a missing picture. Clarification, first time left my wife and I no picture whatsoever. This time (last night) we’ve got shadows, still not viewable, but at least shadows this time around. Of note, last time took Best Buy 2 months to repair, this time we shall see.