Nvidia, with a market capitalization of $3.34 trillion, becomes the most valuable company

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On Tuesday, Nvidia leapfrogged two of the tech industry’s most storied names to become the world’s most valuable public company, according to data from S&P Global. Its rise has been fueled by the boom in generative artificial intelligence and growing demand for the company’s chips – known as graphics processing units, or GPUs – that have made it possible to create artificial intelligence systems.

Nvidia’s rise is among the fastest in the history of the market. Just two years ago, the company’s market valuation exceeded $400 billion. Now, in the span of a year, it has gone from $1 trillion to more than $3 trillion.

Nvidia’s stock price rose 3.6% on Tuesday, bringing its value to $3.34 trillion. Both Microsoft and Apple lost ground, ending the day behind the Silicon Valley chipmaker.

Nvidia’s rise is a testament to how artificial intelligence has disrupted the world’s largest companies. The rise of this powerful technology elevated Microsoft to the largest market capitalization in January, dethroning Apple, before pushing Nvidia to take the crown. Last week, Apple also said it was getting into the artificial intelligence game and will add the technology to its products, including the iPhone, this fall.

Years before other major chip companies, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang bet that GPUs would be essential to building artificial intelligence, and he adapted his company to accommodate what he believed would be the next big technology boom.

His big gamble is paying off. By some measures, Nvidia controls more than 80% of the market for chips used in artificial intelligence systems. Nvidia’s biggest customers are regularly placing orders for chips to run computers in their giant data centers, and they are building their own AI chips so they aren’t so dependent on a single supplier.

“No one else has seen or fully appreciated this,” said Daniel Newman, chief executive of the Futurum Group, a technology research firm. “They saw the trend, they built for the trend, and they enabled the market. They can actually upload whatever they want.”

Nvidia’s rise has made Mr. Huang, 61, a celebrity in the technology world. After a computer conference in Taiwan earlier this month, he was surrounded by attendees wanting his autograph, including one woman who asked him to autograph her chest.

The company’s rise is reminiscent of dot-com-era titans like Cisco and Juniper Networks, which built the equipment that ran communications networks for the Internet. Cisco’s stock rose more than a thousandfold between its initial public offering in 1990 and 2000, when it briefly became the most valuable company in the world.

The speed at which Nvidia’s value has grown has been astonishing. Apple surpassed the $1 trillion mark in August 2018 and became the first $3 trillion company last June. It also took Microsoft almost five years to go from $1 trillion to $3 trillion.

Nvidia investors are betting more on its potential than on current profits. Microsoft and Apple each generated more than $21 billion in profits during the three months ended in March. Nvidia generated profits of $14.88 billion in its most recent quarter, which ended in April, but that was up more than 600% from a year earlier.

“The numbers have gotten so big and so quickly that people are asking: Is this sustainable?” said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Bernstein Research. “If it turns out that the return of artificial intelligence is not there, then everything collapses.”

Only 12 companies have led the S&P 500 by market valuation since the index was created in 1926: AT&T, Apple, Cisco, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Walmart, and now Nvidia, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Nvidia’s rise has been fueled by its ability to consistently exceed Wall Street’s expectations. Sales in the latest quarter tripled from the previous year to $26 billion. It is also expected to double sales in the current quarter.

Nvidia sells everything from chips and the software needed to build artificial intelligence systems with those chips, to supercomputers. The machines, made up of 35,000 parts and equipped with the company’s GPUs, sell for $250,000 or more. A new supercomputer that Nvidia is bringing to market could sell for more than $1 million, Rasgon said.

“Even though the cost of the system is going up, the performance per dollar is getting better with each generation, and that’s how they’re able to keep buying customers,” Rasgon said.

Wall Street awaits signs of a slowdown. Microsoft, Meta, Google, and Amazon have all developed their own chips that can be used for artificial intelligence, and traditional chip rivals like Advanced Micro Devices and Intel have tried to get into Nvidia’s business with their own AI processors.

But Mr. Huang believes it will take some time before anyone can catch up to Nvidia. The company has a ten-year head start and has cultivated a large community of AI programmers who prefer its technology.

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