Last year, the stock market rewarded investors in some of the biggest and best-known technology companies, including Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon. But in 2016, the best performing tech stocks aren’t exactly household names.
So far this year, the stock prices of computer chip maker Nvidia, with a 35% gain, and chip equipment maker Applied Materials, up 21%, are the current top performers among technology stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
With personal computing sales plunging more than 10% this year and smartphone sales flattening off, it’s a bit surprising to see two companies related to the semiconductor industry excelling for investors. But both companies have managed to find niche areas of growth that have avoided the overall slowdowns.
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Nvidia, which used to be thought of mainly as a maker of specialized chips for displaying video game graphics on computers, is benefitting from the surging need for number crunching in data centers. Turns out that the same kinds of chip designs that are best at making billions of rapid calculations for teenagers shooting at imaginary soldiers in Call of Duty are also well suited to manipulate billions of data points of flowing in from jet engines or weather sensors. Last week, for example, IBM said it would use the Nvidia’s new Tesla M60 graphics processing chips in its cloud-based data crunching computers.
Nvidia (nvda) is also supplying chips for other hot areas, like self-driving cars and virtual reality gear. Sales at Nvidia rose 13% to $1.3 billion in its most recent quarter ended May 1—even with the softness in the smartphone and PC markets.
“Investors appear to be getting more excited by secular opportunities within the automotive, gaming (virtual reality), and data center arenas,” says Angelo Zino, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ. “PC exposure is also declining.”
Applied Materials (amat), which sells equipment to make all different kinds of computer chips, has been gaining amid a major shift to new display technologies for smartphones and TV sets, as well a new memory chip used in many kinds of computing devices.
The company reported the most new orders in 15 years in its most recent quarter, bolstered by a shift to brighter, more vibrant organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, displays for phones and TVs as well as a denser form of memory chip known as 3D NAND technology. The chipmakers who actually produce OLED screens and 3D NAND modules are opting for Applied Materials’s cutting-edge equipment as those markets grow.
Meanwhile, some of last year’s super tech stocks are struggling to repeat their winning gains. The big four of 2015 that became known as “FANG”—breaking down to Facebook (fb), Amazon (amzn), Netflix (nflx), and Alphabet’s Google (googl)—gained an average of 83% each last year. So far this year, the group is averaging a loss of 10%.