Opinion: This record number in Nvidia earnings is a scary sight
Nvidia Corp.’s financial results had a bit of a surprise for investors, and not on the good side — product inventories doubled to a record high as the chip company gears up for a questionable holiday season.
Nvidia reported fiscal third-quarter revenue that was slightly better than analysts’ reduced expectations Wednesday, but the numbers weren’t that great. Revenue fell 17% to $5.9 billion, while earnings were cut in half thanks to a $702 million inventory charge, largely relating to slower data-center demand in China.
Gaming revenue in the quarter fell 51% to $1.57 billion. Nvidia said it is working with its retail partners to help move the currently high-channel inventories.
While the company was writing off the inventory for China, its own new product inventory was growing. Nvidia
reported that its overall product inventory nearly doubled to $4.45 billion in the fiscal third quarter, compared with $2.23 billion a year ago and $3.89 billion in the prior quarter. Executives cited its coming product launches, designed around its new Ada and Hopper architectures, when asked about the inventory gains.
In the semiconductor industry, high inventories can make investors nervous, especially after the industry had so many supply constraints in recent years that quickly swung to a glut of chips in 2022. With doubts about demand for gaming cards and consumers’ willingness to spend amid sky-high inflation this holiday season, having all that product on hand just amps up the nerves.
Full earnings coverage: Nvidia profit chopped in half, but tweaked servers to China offset earlier $400 million warning
Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress told MarketWatch in a telephone interview Wednesday that the company’s high level of inventories were commensurate with its high levels of revenue.
“I do believe….it is our highest level of inventory,” she said. “They go hand in hand.” Kress said she was confident in the success of Nvidia’s upcoming product launches.
Nvidia’s revenue reached a peak in the April 2022 quarter with $8.3 billion, and in the past two quarters revenue has slowed, with gaming demand sluggish amid a transition to a new cycle, and a decline in China data-center demand due to COVID-19 lockdowns and U.S. government restrictions.
For its data-center customers, the new architectures promise major advances in computing power and artificial-intelligence features, with Nvidia planning to ship the equivalent of a supercomputer in a box with its new products over the next year. Those types of advanced products weigh on inventory totals even more, Kress said, because of the price of the total package.
“It’s about the complexity of the system we are building, that is what drives the inventory, the pieces of that together,” Kress said.
Bernstein Research analyst Stacy Rasgon believes that products based on Hopper will begin shipping over the next several quarters, “at materially higher price points.” He said in a recent note that he believes Nvidia’s numbers were likely hitting a bottom in this quarter.
“We remain positive on the Hopper ramp into next year, and believe numbers have at this point likely reached close to bottom, with new cycles brewing and an attractive secular story even without China potential,” Rasgon said in an earnings preview note Tuesday.
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Nvidia Chief Executive Jensen Huang reminded investors on a conference call that the company’s inventories are “never zero,” and said everyone is enthusiastic about the upcoming launches. But it doesn’t take too long of a memory to conjure up a time when Nvidia went into a holiday with an inventory backlog that included new architecture and greatly disappointed investors: Four years ago, Huang had to cut his forecast for holiday earnings twice amid a “crypto hangover” with similar dynamics to the current moment
Investors need faith that this holiday season will not be the same, even as demand for some videogame products declines after a pandemic boom just as the market for cryptocurrency — some of which has been mined with Nvidia products — hits a rough patch. Huang said that Nvidia’s RTX 4080 and 4090 graphics cards based on the Ada Lovelace architecture had an “exceptional launch,” and sold out.
Nvidia shares gained more than 2% in after-hours trading Wednesday, suggesting that some are betting that this time will be different. That enthusiasm needs to translate into revenue for Nvidia so that this big gain in inventories does not end up being part of another write-down at some point in the future.