Graphics chipmaker NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA)has sustained a string of strong earnings results, posting 50% earnings-per-share growth for the third quarter of its 2015 fiscal year. Its year-to-date earnings growth is also in the 50% range.
Investors waited through several years of mishaps for NVIDIA to post strong and sustainable earnings growth. These results -- and a few promising initiatives in the pipeline -- suggest it could be reaching a tipping point that will lead to strong growth over the next several years.
New GPU chips + cost control = high earnings
NVIDIA in the last quarter generated record revenue of $1.23 billion, up 16% year over year and 11% sequentially. The company's management team attributed this primarily to the recent launch of GPUs featuring the new Maxwell architecture. (The Tegra mobile chip business also posted strong growth.)
NVIDIA's Maxwell GPUs represent a significant advance over the previous-generation Kepler chips -- which were already highest-performance GPUs ever. CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said Maxwell GPUs offer twice the power efficiency of Kepler chips. This advance helped NVIDIA more than double its sales related to gaming notebook computers in the third quarter.
Strong cost control was an equally important contributor to NVIDIA's earnings growth. Operating expenses had been rising at a double-digit annual rate for the past few years. By contrast, NVIDIA's operating expenses in the third quarter grew just 5% (including stock compensation), or 2% on an adjusted basis that excludes stock-based compensation.
3 key profit growth drivers
NVIDIA has several potential profit drivers that are gaining traction. The first is its growth in the auto market. Last year alone, NVIDIA scored design wins in 41 models, worth $1.9 billion in revenue.
Tegra chips will be used for infotainment displays, digital instrument clusters, and advanced driver assistance technologies. Huang has predicted that NVIDIA's auto sales will double each year for the next few years, eventually reaching $1 billion annually.
A second key growth driver is the cloud computing market. In early 2013, NVIDIA unveiled a new cloud-computing platform called GeForce GRID. By putting high-performance GPUs into GRID servers, NVIDIA is enabling a host of new cloud-computing applications, from graphics-intensive desktop virtualization to streaming video games.
Since enterprise computing is the biggest target market for GRID, there's a long testing period before sales really start to ramp up. NVIDIA is currently conducting more than 1,000 GRID customer trials. This puts the GRID business on pace to become a significant revenue generator in the next few years.
Third, NVIDIA is solidifying the dominance of its GPUs in gaming and high-performance computing. Research and development cutbacks at longtime competitor Advanced Micro Devices are allowing NVIDIA to steadily build its performance lead in GPUs for gaming.
Meanwhile, GPU-accelerated computing is becoming increasingly standard in supercomputers and big data centers, as it tends to increase performance and reduce power consumption. NVIDIA's Tesla chips already dominate this market, and the company just wants to ride the wave of growth in high-performance computing.
A path to strong earnings growth
NVIDIA thus has several distinct paths to strong revenue growth. It has already locked in dozens of major design wins in the automotive market. This will drive strong growth for the Tegra mobile processor business.
NVIDIA is in the early stages of rolling out its GRID cloud-computing platform, but it has received strong customer interest. There is also plenty of growth left in the company's existing gaming and high-performance computing markets, especially due to AMD's recent struggles.
NVIDIA has one last potential profit growth driver: The company recently sued Samsung and Qualcomm for patent infringement related to its GPU technology. This is the first patent infringement case NVIDIA has ever brought.
NVIDIA is spending millions of dollars on legal fees, suggesting executives believe they have a good chance of winning in court or of extracting a settlement. Given the massive sales volume of both defendants, an eventual patent licensing agreement with either one could make a significant contribution to NVIDIA's earnings growth.