The stock market's hottest stock, Nvidia, gets its most bullish Wall Street forecast yet

Key Points
  • Nvidia shares have more than tripled in the last year, the best return of any stock in the S&P 500.
  • Citi Research says shares would climb another 21 percent the next 12 months to $180, the highest price forecast on Wall Street.
  • UBS also raises its price forecast for Nvidia.
Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer and co-founder of Nvidia, speaks at an International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Jacob Kepler | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Nvidia, the market's best-performing stock in the past year, received multiple bullish forecasts Thursday, including a new high for Wall Street.

Citi Research analyst Atif Malik told investors to buy the semiconductor company's shares, citing the large opportunities in the data center and autonomous driving markets:

"Looking forward, we believe stock is not pricing in a) continued growth in data center sales where C17 sales are still ~7% of the projected $30B CY20 opportunity, b) auto inflection in C18 driven by NVDA's open source automated vehicle (AV) stack and increased traction with car OEMs this year; and c) multiple expansion to 'software like' IaaS [infrastructure as a service] + basic PaaS [platform as a service] comps on AI democratization with GPU [graphics processing unit] cloud offering."

Nvidia shares rallied 223 percent through Wednesday in the previous 12 months compared with the market's 15 percent return in that period. That performance ranks number one in the entire S&P 500, according to FactSet. The shares are up 40 percent this year versus the market's 9 percent performance.

Malik reaffirmed his buy rating and raised his price target for Nvidia to $180 from $145, representing 21 percent upside from Wednesday's close. He has the highest price target on the company out of 34 analysts, according to FactSet.

"Nvidia continues to transform itself from a PC to a diversified gaming, data center, and auto software platform and is benefiting from secular trends such as VR/AR, deep learning, AI, and autonomous driving," he wrote.

As a result, Malik raised his Nvidia 2019 earnings per share estimate to $4.23 from $4.06 versus the consensus of $3.47.

He outlined a "bull case" scenario, where Nvidia shares could reach $300 if the company reaches 50 percent share of the data center and auto chip markets.

In a similar move Thursday, UBS analyst Stephen Chin raised his price target for Nvidia shares to $168 from $148 and reiterated his buy rating. He also mentioned the company's big opportunities in the autonomous driving and data center markets.

Nvidia shares rose more than 3 percent in trading Thursday.

— CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this story.