Nvidia surge brings memories of Tesla rally, as investors move from chasing electric vehicles to artificial intelligence

Nvidia surge brings memories of Tesla rally, as investors move from chasing electric vehicles to artificial intelligence

Nvidia surge brings memories of Tesla rally, as investors move from chasing electric vehicles to artificial intelligence

Now, Tesla shares are down more than 50 per cent from their 2021 peak, and other EV stocks that raced higher with it are shadows of their former selves. All of which should be sobering for Nvidia investors who see the stock as a limitless bet on an AI future. The company’s shares have added 66 per cent this year after more than tripling in 2023.

“We have seen time and again that when investors fall in love with the idea of the technology innovation du jour, logic takes a back seat” Adam Sarhan, founder and CEO of 50 Park Investments, said in an interview. “And when emotion takes over, sky is the limit.”

Tesla’s Model Y electric cars seen at the company’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide, Germany. Photo: Reuters

Betting On Growth

There are plenty of differences between Nvidia and Tesla, from the products they make to the personalities of the men that run the companies. But the parallels are striking.

Nvidia’s rise from niche chip maker to one of the biggest companies in the world is based on the premise that its phenomenal sales growth over the past year has staying power.

Tesla’s big breakout rally, which occurred in 2020 and put its valuation well over US$1.2 trillion, was pinned on the assumption that EVs would be adopted widely and quickly, and that it would be the company to dominate that market.

But reality has interrupted that story.

Demand for EVs is slowing as the wave of enthusiastic first adopters have already bought, and more price-conscious, change-averse consumers are taking longer than expected to convert to a new technology.

As a result, Tesla is down 31 per cent from its recent high last July and is one of the biggest percentage decliners in the Nasdaq 100 Index this year.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Photo: AP

“There’s all this potential about the driverless car, the Cybertruck and the stock is getting hit. Why? They are losing market share and they are losing margins. In the tech world that is the kiss of death,” said Sameer Bhasin, principal at Value Point Capital.

For Nvidia, it is too early in the hype cycle for any signs of a slowdown.

The Santa Clara, California-based company has delivered blowout results for four consecutive quarters, fuelled by what appears to be insatiable demand for its chips used to train large language models that power AI applications like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

After more than tripling last year, the stock in 2024 is again the best performer in the S&P 500 Index, with a 66 per cent advance. Its market value of more than US$2 trillion trails only two US companies – Apple and Microsoft.

The talk of broad-based use of AI across industries and businesses brings to mind the excitement around the internet and the years leading into the dot-com bubble. But unlike that era, when internet companies were being valued on new metrics like “clicks” while bleeding cash, Nvidia is pumping out massive profits.

Net income jumped more than 500 per cent to nearly US$30 billion last year and is projected to double in the current year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang. Photo: Reuters

Risks Are Lurking

Those big profits and sales, along with the company’s ability to continually beat estimates, has helped keep a lid on valuation metrics. Still, Nvidia has the highest price-to-sales ratio in the S&P 500 at 18.

Currently, the semiconductor manufacturer has a sizeable lead in the types of graphics chips that excel at crunching large amounts of data used in AI models. But its competitors are eager to grab a piece of that market.

Advanced Micro Devices recently released a line of accelerators, and even Nvidia’s customers like Microsoft are racing to develop chips.

“If you really believe in this AI frenzy, you can visualise a future 10 years from now where AI is embedded in a lot of places, and you need these massive systems running chips that can only be delivered by Nvidia,” said Sameer Bhasin, principal at Value Point Capital. “Even if there’s a perception of a pause in buying, the stock will get hit.”

Nvidia’s stellar results show it can thrive amid China decoupling

None of this is meant to dismiss the disruptive power of electric cars or AI. But it does raise the question of whether investors are paying for a future growth that may never arrive.

Take a market darling of the dot-com era, Cisco Systems. It is still a successful company, but investors who bought the stock around its peak and held on are still waiting to recoup their losses – 24 years later.

“The bubble exists because the underlying idea is real,” said Cole Wilcox, CEO and portfolio manager at Longboard Asset Management. “But just because the general macro wave is real, it doesn’t mean that all of these ventures are going to turn out to be good investments. You will have to be able to separate the winners from the losers.”

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