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MarketWatch First Take: This part of Nvidia’s warning should scare investors the most

Finance

Nvidia Corp. already admitted it had a problem in the past. Now, we know it has a problem with the future.

The gaming-card company revealed Monday morning that it will come up about $500 million short of a holiday-season sales forecast that already wildly disappointed investors. Nvidia NVDA, -13.82%  shares took a huge hit when it made the original forecast of $2.7 billion in quarterly revenue, and then fell more than 13.8% Monday after shaving that down to $2.2 billion.

While the financial disappointment is hard enough for investors to swallow, one bit of information Nvidia provided about the shortfall stands out as utterly frightening. The company admitted that its newest gaming cards — which should be the savior on the other side of the “crypto hangover,” as Chief Executive Jensen Huang termed it — are not selling well.

From November: ‘Crypto hangover’ has Nvidia staggering into holidays with a big headache

“Sales of certain high-end GPUs using Nvidia’s new Turing architecture were lower than expected,” the company said in its news release. “These products deliver a revolutionary leap in performance and innovation with real-time ray tracing and AI, but some customers may have delayed their purchase while waiting for lower price points and further demonstrations of RTX technology in actual games.“

Nvidia launched the new cards last year with much fanfare, as well as higher price tags than comparable cards from previous generations of the company’s core business. Huang has repeatedly pushed real-time ray tracing — a technique that makes light look more real, enhancing video games and making them more lifelike — but most videogames sold today are not designed to take advantage of the capability.

“We suspect that as more games become available supporting ray tracing, demand should get better, but currently there is a chicken-and-the-egg phenomenon apparently going on,” Bernstein analyst Stacey Rasgon wrote Monday morning.

Nvidia did announce the budget-priced versions of its Turing-based RTX cards at CES in January, but it must still compete against its own cards from the Pascal generation, which are still highly capable. There are also a lot of them out there at varying price points: It was the older cards that clogged Nvidia’s inventory when cryptocurrency miners suddenly stopped buying the gear last year, and many are selling their used cards on the secondary market.

And Nvidia is not just competing against itself. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, -7.98%  announced its return to the high-end gaming market at CES with the Radeon VII gaming card and is making a renewed push to challenge Nvidia in all things gaming.

For more: AMD’s Lisa Su takes aim at Nvidia from the CES stage

AMD was already proving more of a challenge than Nvidia has seen in a category it has dominated for decades, with new gaming cards it launched last year. Now, it is selling high-end gaming cards at lower prices than Nvidia, while Nvidia waits for the killer feature it has constantly touted in its new cards to actually matter.

Nvidia also admitted that its data-center business, which sells graphics chips for servers that perform high-performance machine learning and artificial intelligence, came up short of its expectations. This is the business that sparked the huge gains in Nvidia’s stock in 2016 and 2017, as the company demonstrated that its focus on AI had a legitimate business case that resulted in a huge revenue spike.

“A number of deals in the company’s forecast did not close in the last month of the quarter as customers shifted to a more cautious approach,” the company said of the data-center shortfall in its announcement.

When Nvidia disappointed investors in November, it was a crypto-related shortfall related to its older cards, which investors could easily write off as a temporary issue. With this update, Nvidia casts doubt on the products that were supposed to help it recover from the “crypto hangover” in the future, and that is a scary thought.

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