2021 has gotten off to a solid start on Wall Street, and the good times continued for the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) on Wednesday morning. As of 10:45 a.m. EST, the Nasdaq was up almost half a percent, with many believing that the index will soon challenge its all-time highs from late last week.

For a long time now, it's been the high-growth leaders of the Nasdaq that have helped power the entire stock market higher. That's left value investors in the dust, wondering if beaten-down stocks would ever have their heyday. Well, at least on Wednesday, market participants are looking closely at some companies that have been on the outs lately. What they're seeing has the stocks moving higher. Let's look more closely at what's pushing Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Nikola (NASDAQ:NKLA) upward after a long period of lagging performance.

Intel makes a change

Intel has been a big laggard in the Nasdaq recently. The chipmaker saw its stock drop 17% in 2020, even as most tech giants were adding to impressive gains.

That all changed on Wednesday morning. Intel is up more than 8%, bringing its year-to-date gains to more than 15% for 2021.

Person wearing mask and lab coat holding semiconductor chip in gloved hand.

Image source: Getty Images.

The catalyst for today's jump was a major change in Intel's leadership. CEO Bob Swan will step down from his role as of Feb. 15, giving way to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger to take his place at Intel. Investors appear to be excited about Gelsinger's prospects to help Intel recover, given that he's spent 30 years working for the semiconductor giant.

Moreover, Intel gave preliminary financial results for the fourth quarter. The company said it sees sales and earnings per share exceeding the guidance it gave in late October. In addition, Intel is making progress in its efforts to move forward with 7nm chip manufacturing technology, which will be crucial for its future prospects.

Investors have waited a long time for Intel to assert its leadership role in semiconductors, and the company has let its rivals catch up and even surpass it. Now, though, shareholders are hopeful that Intel will get back to the position it once had, commanding the tech industry and joining other big-name tech stocks at the top of the performance charts.

Nikola makes a deal

Shares of Nikola jumped another 12% on Wednesday morning. That added to gains from earlier in the week as investors hope that the electric truck specialist can regain its momentum after a disastrous 2020 that saw the stock drop more than 80% from its highs.

Nikola has gotten an electric rate schedule approved in Arizona that will help it build out its hydrogen-based fuel infrastructure in the state. Specifically, Nikola is targeting the Interstate 10 route between Phoenix and Los Angeles, which has heavy commercial-truck traffic.

That follows in the footsteps of a share-price surge Tuesday following Plug Power's (NASDAQ:PLUG) deal to build out similar infrastructure for light commercial truck use in Europe. Investors in Nikola were pleased to see that a rival's similar plans were gaining traction elsewhere, and they're hopeful that Nikola can stake its claim to share in the growth of the broader industry.

Nikola has to recover from reputational damage last year, which led to the withdrawal of its planned Badger electric pickup truck and the departure of founder Trevor Milton. Going forward, CEO Mark Russell is hopeful that Nikola can participate in the fast-growing market for electric vehicles and hydrogen-fueled power solutions -- and shareholders are increasingly optimistic.

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