What is Zen and why is it driving up AMD's stock price?

AMD's stock has risen 168 percent since the start of the year. What's going on? 

Posted August 25th, 2016

Right now, some investors are probably regretting their decision to not buy stock in Advanced Micro Devices at the beginning of this year. 

If an investor had plunked down $10,000 on January 4 to buy 3,610 shares of AMD stock, those same shares would be worth $26,822 today. 

AMD's stock has been on a tear this year, rising 168 percent since the start of the year. 

We've developed a Q&A to explain what's going on with this company, which employs 1,500 in the Austin area. 

Why was AMD's stock selling so low -- for $2.77 -- at the beginning of this year anyway?

Advanced Micro Devices has always been a roller-coaster company. Some years it's flying high, other years it's battling sinking revenues. But AMD usually manages to claw its way out of any difficult spots.  

In recent years the company has been struggling thanks to the overall decline in the PC market. AMD's processing chips are used in personal computers and servers, but they have long been out-sold by rival Intel Corp., which is the dominant maker of chips for PCs and servers. 

AMD also makes chips that provide the computing and graphics processing for video game consoles. 

In 2015, the company's revenue declined nearly 28 percent, and it reported a loss of $660 million. 

So what caused AMD's stock to surge so much this year? 

Almost two years ago, AMD brought on a new CEO, Lisa Su, who was charged with executing a turnaround strategy for the company. And this year we're finally starting to see the fruits of some of her efforts. 

For instance, AMD has sold some of its intellectual property and manufacturing interests to generate additional cash. The company released a new line of graphics processors and is gaining market share, according to Mercury Research.

Most importantly, a much-hyped new microprocessor that the company has been talking about for several years was finally unveiled this year and is getting rave reviews. It was designed partly in Austin. 

Zen is crucial to AMD's success, because the company needs a new generation of products to better compete with Intel's chips. 

What exactly happened last week to send the stock up another nearly 10 percent?

Last week AMD hosted an event in San Francisco to show off Zen. According to the Wall Street Journal, the event demonstrated that Zen-designed processor core outpaced a rival's chips in a speed test. Analysts and the tech press have walked away impressed.

Barron's reported that Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Rich Schafer called AMD the star of the week, despite the fact that Intel was having its developer conference in the same city at the same time. 

Schafer was impressed with AMD "in a manner we haven't seen from the company in a decade."

Patrick Moorhead, who runs Austin-based Moor Insights & Strategy, said the demonstrations of Zen were "increasingly positive."

"There's a lot of execution between now and launch," Moorhead said. "At a minimum I believe AMD will be in a much better position than they have been in years in processors. To put this in perspective, this is the biggest thing I've seen in 10 years in CPUs at AMD."