NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) shares surged more than 160% over the past 12 months as robust sales of its GPUs and Tegra CPUs fueled a streak of big earnings beats. NVIDIA has posted double-digit annual sales growth over the past seven quarters, and analysts expect its revenue and earnings to respectively rise 29% and 40% this year.
But looking further ahead, NVIDIA's growth looks less certain. Its revenue and earnings are expected to respectively rise 12% and 9% next year as certain tailwinds fade and its headwinds strengthen. Let's discuss those challenges, and how they could alter NVIDIA's path over the following year.
The best-case scenario for NVIDIA
Let's first examine a best-case scenario for NVIDIA, in which everything goes right for its GPU and Tegra CPU businesses. In this rosy future, NVIDIA's current-gen Pascal GPUs will continue holding their ground against AMD's (NASDAQ:AMD) new Vega chips, and its next-gen Volta GPUs (which will launch in 2018) will crush AMD's next-gen "Vega 2.0" chips.
AMD was expected to offer its new Vega-based Radeon RX 64 and 56 chips at lower prices than NVIDIA's comparable Pascal-based GTX 1070 and 1080 GPUs, but it recently revealed that they would cost roughly the same. Therefore, without a clear cost advantage (which has usually been AMD's strength), NVIDIA could keep dominating the low-end and high-end gaming GPU markets with a wide range of GeForce cards.
NVIDIA would also benefit if Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) planned merger with NXP Semiconductors (NASDAQ:NXPI) is delayed or blocked. That deal would make Qualcomm the biggest automotive chipmaker in the world, and the chipmaker would likely use NXP's BlueBox autonomous driving platform to challenge NVIDIA's similar Drive PX platform.
Qualcomm could also use NXP's automotive reach to sell more Snapdragon Automotive chips for connected cars -- which could harm NVIDIA's Tegra business. A hobbled Qualcomm would also give NVIDIA time to seal more driverless deals across the industry.
Meanwhile, sales of NVIDIA's high-end data center GPUs would keep rising as companies install more GPUs for machine learning applications. Large companies looking to cut costs would also likely take a closer look at its DGX-1 supercomputer, which puts "400 servers" into a single box powered by eight Tesla V100 GPUs and two 20-core Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Xeon E5-2698 processors.
Lastly, rising sales of Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Switch, which is powered by NVIDIA's Tegra SoC, could offset any softness in Tegra sales to automakers. RBC Capital analyst Mitch Steves believes that sales of Switch SoCs could add up to $400 million to NVIDIA's 2018 revenues -- which would represent about 4% of its projected sales.
The worst-case scenario for NVIDIA
However, a lot could also go wrong over the next few quarters. First, sales of gaming PCs -- which escaped the overall slowdown in PC sales -- could decline as gamers finish upgrading their systems. Many current-gen games are ultimately limited by console hardware, which could limit demand for high-end gaming rigs.
AMD's first round of Vega chips doesn't seem to threaten NVIDIA's Pascal, but its "Vega 2.0" chips might land some surprising blows, just as AMD's Ryzen CPUs did against Intel's current-gen Kaby Lake CPUs. As for data centers, Intel is striking back against NVIDIA with its "Knights Landing" Xeon CPUs, which aim to reduce the use of stand-alone GPUs for machine learning purposes. Intel believes that it can do this by pairing its Xeons with programmable chips called FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays).
Meanwhile, Qualcomm could quickly close the NXP acquisition and immediately bundle Snapdragon Automotive chips and BlueBox systems together for automakers. Sales of the Nintendo Switch could fade, enabling AMD to retain control of the console market with SoCs for the PS4 and Xbox One. If all these things happen, NVIDIA's growth would certainly decelerate over the next few quarters.
What I think will happen...
I think NVIDIA's wide range of chipsets and energy-efficient designs can hold off AMD in the gaming GPU market, but I'm less confident about its future in cars and data centers. Qualcomm's acquisition of NXP will be a game changer for the automotive industry, and Intel's renewed focus on machine learning could throttle demand for its data center GPUs.
Therefore, I expect NVIDIA to climb higher over the following year on the strength of its gaming GPUs, but I doubt that it can repeat its triple-digit gains. The stock already looks pricey at 54 times earnings, which is much higher than the industry average of 23 for semiconductor makers, and its meager forward yield of 0.4% won't attract any income investors.
Leo Sun owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and NXP Semiconductors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.