Over the last several years, chip giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has aimed to reinvent itself as a company that's less dependent on the flat-to-declining personal computer market and more dependent on markets that are growing, like data center processors and flash memory.
That transformation, by and large, continues to be successful, as Intel has managed to deliver multiple years of reasonable revenue growth and substantial profit growth. The company expects revenue to grow again during 2018, even as it projects a decline in the personal computer total addressable market.
Here are three potential growth opportunities for Intel that investors should keep a close eye on.
Intel has sold storage drives based on NAND flash memory for years, but back in 2015, the company publicly announced its decision to really go all-in on memory technologies. The company converted one of its logic chip factories -- known as Fab. 68 -- into a memory chip factory. It has also increased its investments in technology development related to non-volatile memory technologies (both NAND flash and a new type of memory known as 3D XPoint) in recent years.
That bet really began to pay off in 2017, as revenue in its non-volatile memory solutions group, or NSG, surged 36.6% that year. NSG accounted for about 5.7% of the company's revenue in 2017.
Though profitability in this segment remains elusive -- NSG lost about $300 million last year -- the losses don't reflect poor gross profit margins on its memory products but rather the significant fixed technology development costs associated with memory technology. Its memory technology is increasingly competitive and the market for non-volatile memory continues to boom, so as Intel ramps up scale here, this segment should be a nice source of profitability for the company over the long term.
2. Network processors
Intel has talked a lot about the opportunity that it sees in the market for network processors. According to the company's 2017 investor day materials, the total market for network processors was worth about $19.3 billion in 2017 and Intel's share was relatively low. Moreover, the company said that it outgrew the overall market by a factor of 10, suggesting significant market share gains in that year.
Over the long term, as Intel designs increasingly targeted products for this market and continues to work with major networking customers to transition their software to Intel architecture, the company is poised to grow its share of the market. That growth, coupled with the potential growth of the overall market, could mean significant high-margin revenue growth for the company's network processor business, which is a part of the company's data center group (DCG) reporting segment, which accounted for about 31% of revenue last year.
3. Graphics processors
In November 2017, Intel formally announced that it would be developing its own high-performance, stand-alone graphics processors. Although it's unlikely that the company is going to start generating significant revenue from such products this year or even next year (I'd bet on the first Intel-designed stand-alone graphics processors arriving sometime in 2020), the reality is that the market for high-performance graphics processors is large and seems to be booming.
If Intel can persevere and eventually come to market with compelling stand-alone graphics processors, then it stands a chance of generating a significant amount of revenue from sales of such chips, accelerating the company's overall growth rate.
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