For the second quarter of its 2023 fiscal year, Nvidia (NVDA 1.49%) released a report that appears lackluster on the surface. The company reported revenue growth in the low single digits year over year and showed a dramatic sequential revenue decline.

However, from a more macro point of view, the results may appear different. Given the behavior of the overall industry, Nvidia may have had a good quarter, and investors should consider a more positive perspective.

The nature of the semiconductor market

Semiconductor stocks have one key commonality with the economy -- both operate in cycles. In the case of the chip industry, it bounces between times of surplus and times of shortage.

Rising chip prices lead to foundries investing more heavily in capacity. As supplies rise, prices come down. If producers make too many chips (which usually happens), prices fall, and production slows. This leads to a surplus until demand rises and the cycle begins again.

The pandemic did not make these cycles disappear. Nonetheless, it changed them. For a time, the pandemic led to rising demand as production fell, leading to a severe shortage in some industry sectors. 

Sector cycles and Nvidia

Consequently, some sectors have escaped the down effects, and Nvidia's results seem to show this bifurcating chip market. Overall, fiscal second-quarter revenue came in at $6.7 billion. That increased by 3% year over year but fell 19% versus the prior quarter.

Gaming took the most brutal hit on the revenue front amid a return to more offline activities. It brought in $2 billion, dropping 33% versus one year ago and 44% from the first quarter. Likewise, the $496 million in revenue reported in the professional visualization segment fell by 4% from 12 months before and 20% compared with the first quarter.

Nonetheless, the news was very positive in Nvidia's other two segments. Data center, its largest segment with $3.8 billion in revenue, surged 61% quarter over quarter and managed a 1% gain compared with the prior quarter. And despite automotive's modest $220 million in revenue, its registered 45% growth year over year and 59% versus Q1.

Still, the net income picture was bleaker. In Q2 2023, Nvidia earned $656 million, down 51% versus 12 months ago and off 62% from the prior quarter. This occurred as the cost of revenue surged 65%, and operating expenses rose by 36%. So high were the increases that the $181 million tax benefit failed to offset rising costs and expenses.

Also, the third-quarter outlook turned more negative as the company forecast approximately $5.9 billion in revenue. This is 12% less than the previous quarter and would be a 9% yearly decline. Also, as in the current quarter, Nvidia expects the automotive and data center to escape the effects of the down cycle.

Investor reactions

Still, the negative results give some latitude for investors to consider this a good quarter. The market has probably experienced a natural downward movement in the chip cycle, and smart investors seemed to have graded Nvidia's report on a curve. Despite lackluster short-term numbers, the stock rose 4% in Wednesday trading following the report.

Moreover, Nvidia's price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 48 is well above AMD's multiple of 41 and its primary fab, Taiwan Semiconductor, at 17 times earnings. Yet investors may not perceive the stock as expensive since lower profits placed upward pressure on the P/E ratio. Finally, considering that Nvidia stock sells for about half its peak price in late 2021, it may look like a bargain at current levels.