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NVIDIA Earnings: What to Watch on Thursday

Game time is almost here for NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA), which reports its fiscal third-quarter 2018 results after the market close on Thursday, Nov. 9.

The graphics-chip specialist that's become a leading player in artificial intelligence (AI) is going into its report on a strong note. It's been posting powerful quarterly revenue and earnings growth and cruising by Wall Street's estimates, so investor expectations are no doubt very high.

NVIDIA stock clenched another new high on Friday, and has returned a whopping 96.1% in 2017 through Friday, versus the S&P 500's 17.5% return. 

Here's a look at expectations for NVIDIA and what investors should focus on in Thursday's report.

Image source: Getty Images.

The headline numbers: Coming up against tough comparables 

Here are the previous period's results and Wall Street's estimates to use as benchmarks:

Metric

Fiscal Q3 2017 Result

Fiscal Q3 2018 Wall Street Consensus Estimate

Wall Street's Projected Growth (YOY)

Revenue

$2.0 billion

$2.36 billion

18%

Adjusted earnings per share (EPS)

$0.83

$0.94

13.3%

Data sources: NVIDIA and Yahoo! Finance. YOY = year over year.

Analysts' growth expectations for the quarter are modest relative to how NVIDIA has been performing lately. For perspective, the company's year-over-year revenue and adjusted EPS soared 56% and 91%, respectively, in Q2, and 48% and 85%, respectively, in Q1. 

Expectations are muted because NVIDIA has just started coming up against very tough prior-year comparables. In Q3 of fiscal 2017, the company's graphics processing units (GPUs) based on its then-newly launched Pascal architecture became fully ramped for applications across its business, including gaming, data center AI computing, self-driving cars, and virtual reality (VR). 

Even though some analysts have lately been raising their expectations for NVIDIA, my bet is on another earnings beat. 

Data center: Look for AI-driven Volta growth

Data center is NVIDIA's second-largest target market platform by revenue, behind gaming, and ahead of professional visualization and auto. It gets top billing here because it's been the fastest-growing platform by far on a year-over-year basis, and has the potential to ultimately become the company's largest business. Here's how this business performed last quarter: 

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q2 Fiscal 2018

$416 million

175%

2%

18.7%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

Entities of all types are rapidly adopting artificial intelligence -- and NVIDIA's GPU-based approach to deep learning has emerged a favored approach to AI. (Deep learning is a branch of AI that aims to mimic human thought processes.) 

This quarter, we should see some pent-up demand for platforms based on Volta, the company's latest GPU architecture, which is optimized for deep-learning applications and is much more powerful than its Pascal architecture. Last quarter's meager 2% quarter-over-quarter increase likely reflects that some customers put off purchases of less powerful products because they were waiting for the availability of Volta-based ones, as NVIDIA unveiled Volta and its Tesla V100 accelerator for data centers, its first product based on Volta, at the beginning of the second quarter. 

Gaming: Pascal-driven growth should continue

Here's how NVIDIA's largest platform by revenue performed last quarter:

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q2 Fiscal  2018

$1,186 million

52%

15%

53.2%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

Gaming has been posting brisk growth in recent quarters, driven by NVIDIA's launch in May 2016 of its Pascal GPU architecture. Investors can probably expect solid growth from the continued adoption of the company's Pascal-based GeForce cards. Gamers have had good reason to upgrade their graphics cards, as several sure-to-be-blockbuster titles have recently launched or will soon launch, including Activision's Destiny 2 and Call of Duty: WWII, and Electronic ArtsStar Wars Battlefront 2

The quarterly results should show how well NVIDIA is fending off competition from Advanced Micro Devices, which released its highly touted Vega card this summer. The discreet graphics card market is NVIDIA's to lose, as it commanded a 70.6% share of the market in Q2, versus AMD's 29.4% share, according to Jon Peddie Research

Image source: Getty Images.

Auto: Expect continued growth from self-driving vehicles 

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q2 Fiscal 2018

$142 million

19%

1%

6.4%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

Last spring, NVIDIA's auto business began profiting from the transitioning toward self-driving vehicles when it started shipping its DRIVE PX 2 AI computing platform. Numerous automakers -- including Toyota, Tesla, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo -- are already using or recently announced they'll soon be adopting the platform in their autonomous vehicle initiatives.

At this stage, growth is likely to be "just" steady, as the DRIVE PX 2 platform hasn't yet made its way into many production vehicles -- just all Tesla's vehicles and Audi's 2018 A8, I believe. As for Tesla, CEO Elon Musk hinted on the company's earnings call last week that there could be changes in Tesla's hardware strategy for autonomous driving, so some negative news for NVIDIA might be on the horizon. 

Cryptocurrency: Soaring prices should provide another boost to revenue

Soaring cryptocurrency prices have provided a tailwind for NVIDIA's OEM (original equipment manufacturer) category, which sells application-specific GPUs for cryptocurrency "mining," which involves adding transactions to the blockchain and releasing new currency. The gaming platform has also been getting a boost, as some folks have been buying GeForce GTX cards to use for mining. 

NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huan said on last quarter's earnings call that he believes this application for the company's GPUs will grow and "become quite large." 

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Beth McKenna owns shares of Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard, Nvidia, and Tesla. The Motley Fool recommends Electronic Arts. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.