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The tech buzzwords taking over Wall Street earnings calls

  • More companies are talking about "artificial intelligence," "machine learning" and "autonomous vehicles."
  • Some investors are skeptical of companies using the phrases simply to appear relevant.

At the Sohn Investment Conference in May, hedge fund manager David Einhorn presented his idea, shorting oilfield services firm Core Laboratories. One factor he cited in going against the company was how each year its communications to investors described a new corporate focus: "Canadian oil sands," "deepwater" and "international crude" were all featured in years past.

"Reading Core's annual reports is like opening a time capsule preserving the history of energy market hype. You'd almost expect them to start talking about machine learning," Einhorn said, before showing a slide of just that.

Core Labs is hardly unique: The buzzwords of Silicon Valley are working their way into major companies' earnings calls, according to a CNBC analysis of earnings calls transcripts provided by FactSet.

Around 60 percent of all S&P 500 companies have used buzzy tech phrases in their earnings calls over the past decade, according to our analysis.

The four hottest phrases spiking up the charts this year are: "artificial intelligence," "machine learning," "data analytics" and, of course, "autonomous vehicles."

Some phrases have been used for years, and it's safe to assume they're part of the regular Wall Street lexicon. Executives have been talking about "the cloud" and "cloud services" for years, but use of the terms isn't declining. There are signs that the growth of terms like "Internet of Things" is slowing.

"Virtual reality" saw a peak last year, but has been fading in use since.

As far as sectors go, it's not just technology companies using these buzzwords. In the consumer sector, "artificial intelligence" is the most buzz-worthy phrase we looked at. For financials and health care, it's all about "data analytics." In energy, "big data" was the buzziest phrase.