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seems to be seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the telecom recession.

The maker of components for optical networking equipment Wednesday met its sharply reduced fourth-quarter financial targets, posting a pro forma loss of 28 cents a share on revenue of $974 million. But investors will likely pay more attention to a mildly optimistic if determinedly guarded second-half outlook contained in Corning's postclose earnings release.

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After dropping 14 cents to $8.32 in Wednesday's regular session, Corning shares were unchanged following the postclose earnings report.

As expected, the company declined to offer specific financial guidance for 2002. But financial chief James B. Flaws said in the press release that Corning is "beginning to sense a settling in the market that suggests we may see improved demand in the second half of this year." The company, which previously has been reticent on the subject of its sales and earnings expectations, said it will discuss first-quarter guidance at a Feb. 8 investor conference.

As weak as that evidence is, bulls may be expected to take it as proof that the long-awaited telecom recovery is really on its way. Over the last 18 months Corning and rivals such as

JDS Uniphase

have gone from the investment world's darlings to outcasts as cash-strapped telecom companies stopped spending on new-age networks. Both companies have seen their shares plunge into the single digits as they rolled out waves of layoffs and plant closings in a never-ending struggle to bring expenses in line with free-falling revenue. The struggles at JDS and Corning echoed those at troubled telecom gearmakers Lucent and


, two of the component makers' big customers, which in the last year have seen their revenue figures and employee counts fall some 50%.

Including restructuring charges and noncash goodwill writedowns, Corning posted a fourth-quarter loss of $655 million, or 69 cents a share share, compared with a loss of $58 million, or 8 cents a share, from continuing operations for the fourth quarter of 2000. Only a week ago Corning reduced its estimates to those levels, saying it would take charges to cover various costs and trimming revenue guidance.

Like the retrenching Lucent and Nortel, Corning says it's now focused on returning to profitability. But until Corning offers some actual evidence of a rebound, it can probably expect investors to keep sitting on their hands.