What happened

Shares of Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT) spiked 58.4% last year, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, after the company posted strong sales growth throughout the year and beat analysts' expectations several times.

So what

Applied Materials started the year off strong with its fiscal first-quarter 2017 earnings report in February, in which the company grew its top line by 45% year over year to $3.28 billion and non-GAAP earnings per share hit $0.67, which just slipped past Wall Street's expectation of $0.66 per share. The results encouraged Applied Materials' investors and they slowly drove up the company's share price by nearly 16% between February and April.

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In May, Applied Materials released its second quarter 2017 earnings report and the company's top line popped by 45% and earnings per share came in at $0.79 -- a 162% jump year over year -- which again surpassed analysts' consensus earnings estimate. The news helped drive the company's share price up 10% that month.

Investors were also encouraged by what Applied Materials' management said at the company's investor conference in September. CEO Gary Dickerson said that he believed that Applied's services division will reach annual revenue of $4.5 billion by 2020 and net earnings will hit $5.08 billion by the same year. Management's optimism was contagious and Applied Materials investors boosted the company's stock by 10% during the month.

Now what

Applied Materials' management believes the company is headed for much more growth this year and Dickerson said in the company's fourth quarter 2017 press release that, "Fiscal 2017 was a record-breaking year for the company. We have great momentum and we're confident that in 2018 we can deliver strong double-digit growth across our semiconductor, display and service businesses."

Investors have already pushed up Applied Materials' share price by about 8% in January and if the company continues to outpace earnings estimates and grow sales at a healthy clip, then this year may end up being another solid win for Applied Materials investors.

Chris Neiger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.