Support has held for Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) shares again. In late May, the Nvidia stock price dipped below $135. As was the case in November, late December, and late January, NVDA stock rebounded.
There has been some outside help, admittedly. Progress on the trade war with China has boosted the entire chip sector. The tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite looks like it’s targeting new all-time highs. But at least for now, the market seems to have a threshold where it decides the Nvidia stock price is just too cheap.
The question now is whether that support can hold again, if tested. And that comes down to the chipmaker’s performance in the second half of its fiscal 2020. That starts about six weeks from now. This is a second-half story, as I’ve written earlier this year and as NVDA management itself has insisted.
If management is right, the rally could keep going. I remain skeptical, given long-term risks. Plus, the short-term news of late looks mixed.
NVDA Stock and the Second Half
To be sure, it’s widely known that NVDA relies on a second-half recovery. Management made that case after fiscal-fourth-quarter results. They even took the unusual step of offering full-year guidance to highlight the dichotomy between the first and second half.
So far, Nvidia continues to sing the same tune. CFO Colette Kress reiterated on Q1’s conference call in mid-May that “we expect a stronger second half than the first.” Last week, at an investment conference, she said much the same regarding data-center demand.
There are two factors at play here. First-half results last year, in the company’s fiscal 2019, were enormously impressive. In retrospect, those results were driven by demand for cryptocurrency mining. In the first half of this year, Nvidia faces very difficult comparisons. It’s also suffering from what the company itself has called a “crypto hangover.” At the same time, data-center demand has slowed, as key customers paused spending.
In the second half, however, the situation reverses. Comparisons get easier, particularly in Q4. And data-center growth — as Kress said last week — should return. And so the Street at least sees revenue declining 18% in Q2 and 6% in Q3 before a sharp rebound (+47%) in Q4 sets up 20% growth in fiscal 2021.
The Importance of the Recovery
The question now is whether that recovery is on the way. And it’s not just a matter of NVDA earnings rebounding a quarter or two early — or a quarter or two late.
First, management’s credibility is at stake. Last year, Nvidia clearly misjudged cryptocurrency demand both financially and operationally. The company didn’t see the drop-off in sales coming. Unfortunately, it overproduced GPUs, leading to an inventory glut in the first half of this year. Another broken promise will make Nvidia a “show me” story for some time to come.
Secondly, data-center demand in particular must come back quickly. That’s an area where investors see years of double-digit growth ahead. A longer slowdown will raise fears that demand issues aren’t short-term, but rather a sign that investors (and management) simply overestimated the market opportunity.
And third, Nvidia has an opportunity to take share from Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) in that market. Intel is dealing with shortages and a number of other unforced errors. Its leadership team seems more cautious about second-half demand. If Nvidia sees a recovery and Intel doesn’t, that’s a sign that Intel’s dominance in that market is eroding further. That leaves NVDA and Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) likely picking up share.
But Is It en Route?
Is that recovery on the way? We’ll see. CFO Kress’ sentiment toward data center, and similar comments from another Nvidia executive regarding AI a week before, unquestionably are good news. We don’t know exactly how clear is Nvidia’s visibility into Q3 and Q4. However, the company hasn’t backed off its forecast yet.
On the other hand, chip giant Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO) sounded much more cautious after its fiscal Q2 report last week. The day before, Evercore (NYSE:EVR) pushed its forecast for a recovery well into 2020. As MarketWatch noted after Nvidia earnings last month, Microchip Technology (NASDAQ:MCHP) CEO Steve Sanghi “lightly walked back” his call of a bottom in chips.
To be sure, Nvidia doesn’t necessarily play in the same markets as those other chipmakers. It’s possible NVDA could follow the bullish trajectory while the rest of the space stays stuck near the bottom of the cycle. Still, after the debacle last year, it’s wise to take Nvidia management’s projections with a grain of salt.
With Nvidia stock still off the lows, there is a case to stay patient. After all, the recovery can come in Q4 FY2020 or Q3 FY2021. NVDA still isn’t that expensive on an earnings basis, though it’s not cheap by chip standards. The long-term growth drivers — data center, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving — are mostly in place.
But AMD is rising as a real competitor. I personally still see self-driving cars as a long way off. And investor patience is likely going to wane if NVDA is overpromising again. Nvidia stock has bounced off support several times. It won’t be able to do so forever.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.