CORNING, N.Y., Mar. 20 -- Corning Inc. said it expects to report first-quarter earnings that are well above the current First Call consensus estimate of 48 cents per share. Based on results through February, the company expects to report first-quarter earnings before special items in the range of 53 cents to 55 cents, approximately 50 percent ahead of 1999 first-quarter earnings of 36 cents per share. Demand for our LEAF optical fiber used by leading long-distance providers worldwide continues to grow at a significant rate and is the primary reason for our improved first-quarter earnings outlook, said Roger G. Ackerman, chairman and CEO of Corning. The company recently unveiled plans to invest $750 million to expand its fiber-making capacity by 50 percent in response to this growing demand.Corning said that it also expects to exceed the current First Call full-year earnings consensus estimate of $2.35 per share before special items by approximately ten cents. The revised outlook, which represents growth of nearly 30 percent on a year-to-year basis, excludes the impact of the recently announced acquisition of NetOptix Corp., scheduled to close in the second quarter.