Frenzied demand for Nvidia's graphic chips shoot prices through the roof

(Reuters) - Nvidia Corp's NVDA.O graphic processors, or GPUs, are so overwhelmingly popular that gamers and cryptocurrency miners are willing to pay up to three times the original list price to get their hands on its cards online.

FILE PHOTO: A NVIDIA logo is shown at SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The company's GeForce 1070 chip set, which retailed at $349 a year ago, was going for up to $900 from electronics wholesalers on Inc AMZN.O Friday, and the same demand stood behind a stellar set of corporate results on Thursday.

The company’s share price rose 6 percent in early trading on Friday after at least 14 Wall Street brokerages raised their price targets on the stock - a measure of the confidence around the stock among sector analysts.

Gamers use GPUs to play high-quality video games, but Nvidia’s high-performing cards are also now used by those building machines to solve the complex math puzzles used to validate transactions and earn more of cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and bitcoin.

The company’s Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress said on a conference call on Thursday that inventory levels for gaming GPUs were at historically low levels due to cryptocurrency miners.

“We do think that cryptocurrency has been a very significant factor in both revenue and pricing, creating a shortage environment that is boosting pricing,” Morgan Stanley analyst Joseph Moore said in a note after the results.

Analysts also say Nvidia’s competitive advantage is only likely to increase when it moves its Volta chip architecture, launched last year and only currently present in data-center GPUs, into gaming chips later this year.

The new GPU gaming chip, code named Turing, is expected to be unveiled next month. Even without it, Nvidia’s revenue from gaming rose 29 percent to $1.74 billion in the fourth quarter, accounting for more than half of its total revenue.

The company's quarterly data center revenue - powered by the Volta-based data center GPU, Tesla V100 - more than doubled to $606 million as companies such as Alibaba BABA.N, Amazon AMZN.O, Alphabet GOOGL.O, IBM IBM.N and Microsoft MSFT.O adopted the new chip in their servers.

Data centers outperformed despite high expectations and Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis said they should do so again given that Volta is in the early stages of adoption.

One pocket of concern was an 8 percent fall in automotive revenue quarter over quarter.

Auto revenue was down as auto infotainment was becoming commoditized and the company is going through a revenue transition phase to ramping its autonomous driving platforms in volume likely in 2019, Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Seymore said.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing Patrick Graham, Bernard Orr