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AMD Ends 2018 as Top Stock Performer, Nvidia Slides Hard in Q4

It’s been a rough year for the stock market in general, and both AMD and Nvidia have been hit hard in recent months by the cryptocurrency crash. But looking at 2018 as a whole, AMD ended the year as the top-performing stock on the S&P 500, up 79.6%, according to MarketWatch. And the company just recently landed on the Nasdaq-100 index.

The stock of AMD’s graphics-chip rival Nvidia, on the other hand, didn't do so well. After riding to record highs over the last couple of years, Nvidia stock crashed hard at the end of the year. According to CNBC, Nvidia stock’s 54-percent drop in the fourth quarter made it the worst-performing company on the S&P 500 over that time period.

( (Image credit: cherezoff/Shutterstock))

To be fair, AMD also fell 40.2% percent off its September high as the year ended. But AMD is buoyed by its resurgent CPU division, with Ryzen on the consumer side and EPYC in servers, while Nvidia’s business is tied closely to demand for GPUs, whether they be for gaming, AI, or autonomous driving.

AMD is also getting a boost as of late by the numerous challenges facing its much larger CPU rival Intel, including (but not limited to) ongoing issues getting to mass production on its 10nm node, a resulting shortage in 14nm production, and spending the second half of the year searching for a new long-term CEO.

Interestingly, despite all its woes, Intel’s stock is pretty flat on the year, up less than a half a percent. Of course, not being heavily involved in graphics helped the company avoid the fourth-quarter woes that hit both AMD and Nvidia, although the companydoes plan to be in the dedicated graphics game by 2020 with its Xe line. Intel was also buoyed by healthy data center growth, although it’s still unclear how much the US/China tariff battle will hurt the market there—and elsewhere.

As for AMD, the company appears to have a strong opening in 2019 to gain market share on the CPU side while Intel sorts out its multiple issues. And the upcoming Navi architecture could help it fight back against Nvidia on the mainstream/mid-level graphics front (which is where most of the volume and profit is).

But make no mistake: AMD is still fighting an uphill battle against both of its primary rivals, primarily due to its comparatively small size. Being the David fighting two Goliaths is certainly good for a company’s public image. But AMD’s market cap of $18.45 billion pales in comparison to Nvidia’s $81.44 billion. And Intel’s $219.55 billion market value is in another league.

In other words, while AMD may have clawed its way back from bankruptcy in recent years thanks in large part to its Zen architecture, it has much less to invest in research and development than its competitors, much of its high-level talent has defected to Intel, and it needs to keep stringing together successes if it wants to get to a level of dominance—where both Nvidia and Intel sit confidently at the moment, despite their own issues.

Both Nvidia and, particularly, Intel are better situated to weather market fluctuations and product issues. Nvidia is more vulnerable due to its ties primarily to the GPU market, it’s been broadening its focus within that field for several years, while AMD has had less success in growing areas like AI, enterprise graphics, and automotive. While AMD clearly has the momentum, one serious trip-up could still knock the underdog out of the running.