Looking to invest in AI? Consider companies that have a long-term play

Connie Queline

Looking to invest in AI? Consider companies that have a long-term play

The surge of investor interest in artificial intelligence has sent shares in leading companies skyrocketing in recent months.

Microsoft shares have spiked nearly 60% in the past year, while Nvidia has seen its stock price soar 250%, making it the third most valuable U.S. company, surpassing Amazon and Alphabet. Those jumps have put the shares out of range for many investors, who are left wondering: Did I wait too long to invest in AI?

Not necessarily. While AI chipmakers and innovators of generative AI platforms might be at record highs, the cost savings that AI promises could bring about significant ramps for the earnings, and perhaps share prices, of companies in a wide range of industries.

This halo effect of AI could be widespread, too. And analysts are starting to look at the companies (and industries) that could most stand to benefit.

One possible way to determine the businesses that expect the biggest results from AI is by seeing how frequently they discuss the technology. A DealHub analysis of the earnings calls of more than 200 companies last November looked at how often an AI-related term (such as “ChatGPT” or “generative AI”) was mentioned within 10 sentences of a sales-related phrase (i.e., revenues or earnings).

Broadcom topped the list, with AMD coming in second. Not surprisingly, both companies have seen their shares jump more than 100% in the past year, given their chipmaking interests. But if you dig a little deeper into the list, there are several companies that might not jump to mind when you think about AI.

Thomson Reuters, for instance, ranked fourth and incorporates AI and machine learning to ensure the reliability of its news, accounting, legal, and other services. Its stock is only up about 25% in the past year, though. And Chinese gaming company NetEase, which ranked ninth, plans to incorporate generative AI into its titles. Its stock also is up roughly 25% in the past year.

“The data uncovers intriguing insights into the companies that are exploring AI in the realm of sales,” said Gideon Thomas, chief marketing officer of DealHub, in a statement.

Looking beyond chips

Despite the gains of Nvidia and other chipmakers, a 2023 report from Ben Reitzes at Melius Research noted that there’s still plenty of room for growth among other tech companies.

“Generative AI should drive an ‘AI halo effect’ on IT spending in 2024–26, accelerating growth in many tech categories,” he wrote. “Themes and trends that move stocks are not as sector-specific as before and have become more AI-specific in our opinion. While companies have been using AI for years by tapping into machine learning, generative AI is turning almost anyone into a software developer with applications that learn and get better as you use them.”

Among the companies Reitzes was positive about was Cisco, which he said “should eventually benefit” from the halo, as demand for networks increases. (The company’s stock is slightly below where it was a year ago.) Reitzes said he expects Cisco to be a beneficiary of this AI halo either this year or next.

Acknowledging that overall consensus on the company is low, he argued Ethernet will see growth as AI workloads increase, which should serve it well.

“If they get anything right in AI, [the] stock can work,” he wrote.

Creativity, automated

One of the roles many expect AI will play increasingly in coming years is assisting creative content companies in everything from developing ideas to script writing. So investors are likely to keep a close eye on how businesses from video game developers to TKO’s WWE incorporate AI in the months and years to come.

Video game companies are being watched especially. At CES last month, Convai, a privately held firm, showcased its technology at Nvidia’s press conference, blending generative AI with non-player characters (NPCs) and letting players have unscripted conversations with NPCs. Those same NPCs could also interact with the game environment, handing out objects or following orders.

It will likely be a few years before that sort of AI integration becomes standard for companies like Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive Software. But in the meantime, the technology can help in other ways.

“The near-term opportunity for video games is in things like testing games,” says P.J. McNealy, CEO of Digital World Research. “They’ll be able to do it a lot faster and quicker with AI, and that will result in more efficient game developments and ideally shorter cycles, which could mean better margins.”

Overall global outlay on AI is expected to explode in the coming years. An IDC report projects the total spend by 2026 will top $301 billion, with increased efficiency at the top of nearly every company’s list of reasons for embracing it.

Globally, early adopters reported to IDC a 35% improvement in innovation and a 33% increase in sustainability from investing in AI over the past three years. That same survey says the banking and retail industries will be spending the most on AI by 2026, with professional services and discrete manufacturing also showing heavy spends.

Of course, just spending on AI doesn’t mean a company or industry will see a stock surge. The real winners—on Wall Street and in industry—will be the ones who are able to use the technology to both realign their workflow and connect with customers, saving money and increasing revenue at the same time.

It’s not something that will be a sea change, says McNealy. Both companies and consumers need to get used to AI—and the technology has some growing to do as well. As a result, it will be a gradual change for many businesses.

“You see giant leaps in industry where they got from version 1 to version 2 to version 3 over the course of two to six years,” he says. “I think what you’re going to see are a whole bunch of small steps in between … Where you’re going to see it used in certain verticals with very specific finite steps that, when combined, will feel like a bigger step.”

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