Graphics specialist NVIDIA (NVDA 4.00%) recently reported financial results for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2015 and issued guidance for the first quarter of fiscal 2016. Both the results and the forward guidance came in ahead of expectations, the latter of which CFO Colette Kress attributed to "broad-based expansion across each of [its] four market platforms: gaming, professional visualization, datacenter, and automotive."
The numbers tell a clear and positive story about NVIDIA's business performance and health, but many investors typically appreciate the additional detail and "bigger picture" view that management provides on its earnings calls. Let's take a look at four items that were particularly noteworthy from the company's most recent earnings call.
A longer-term view of the gaming graphics chip market
Analyst Vivek Arya with Merrill Lynch noted that NVIDIA's gaming-oriented graphics processor business has grown at a pace exceeding 30% per-year over the last two years. Arya wanted CEO Jen-Hsun Huang to give his views on what the growth opportunity in this segment looks like over the next two to three years.
"GeForce is really not a chip business anymore; it's really a gaming platform business," Huang said. "And when you think about it from a gaming platform business [perspective], it has to be thought of in the context of the whole gaming ecosystem and the gaming industry."
An industry that, Huang pointed out, is "$100 billion large."
Though Huang ducked the question by not actually giving potential revenue growth figures, he did express his view that the company's growth opportunities in this market are "still quite significant."
What makes Huang so confident about continued growth here?
After making the assertion above, Huang went into some detail on some more specific reasons for why NVIDIA should be able to grow with the overall gaming market.
First, he talked about the impact of new gaming-oriented graphics processor launches. In particular, since the total installed base of gamers using the company's GeForce gaming cards is 100 million large, whenever the company launches new chips (and it should do so this year), a good portion of the installed base should be tempted to upgrade.
Next -- and certainly related to the previous point -- Huang indicated that games continue to become increasingly graphically rich, which provides reason for gamers to buy newer graphics processors. Huang of course took the opportunity to highlight the company's GameWorks technologies as a key driver of this increased graphical richness.
"All of the physics simulations, all of the visual simulations, all the lighting simulations, and all of the things that make games beautiful today are easy to include by just supporting GameWorks," the executive said. "It's been an enormous success for [NVIDIA]."
The automotive push continues
Although the company's Tegra processor business has seen revenue difficulties as the company has essentially bowed out of the high-volume tablet/smartphone market, the company's refocusing of this business on automotive has put it back on a growth path.
Indeed, in the most recent quarter, NVIDIA's Tegra processor revenue hit $157 million, yielding 22% year-over-year revenue growth. Of this $157 million, a full $93 million came from in-vehicle infotainment systems as well as "product-development contracts" -- up 68% year over year.
Although it'll likely be a while before this business is profitable for the chipmaker, it's at least good to see that the company's heavy investments have a shot of actually paying off over the long term.
Gross margins continue upward
During the call, analyst Mark Lipacis noted that NVIDIA has seen corporate gross profit margin expansion from the "low 50%" to greater than 57% (the company is guiding to gross margins on a generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, basis of 57.2% in the current quarter, give or take 50 basis points).
Lipacis then asked management about its view of when the company's gross profit margin percentage will no longer continue to grow.
Huang noted that the growth in the company's gross profit margins has been due to a fundamental shift away from being simply a chip company and toward being a "platform business." A key part of being a platform business, the executive explained, is through its offerings becoming increasingly "software-rich" as well as "services-rich."
As for when margins might top out? Huang didn't offer a direct answer to that, but he did note that as the company continues to shift its business from components to "differentiated platforms" (he indicated that roughly 80% of the business now comes from such platforms), gross profit margins should "continue to move along with the change in [NVIDIA's] business model."