Mining references generally evoke images of picks and shovels.
For advocates of bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies surging in value, the gold may be in the shares of the companies that produce the computer chips and processors used to create the digital coins in the process that's become known as mining.
Digital coins can only be created by using computers to solve complex mathematical problems. The difficulty increases as more of the problems get solved, prompting the miners to require even more powerful hardware. With digital coin prices soaring, demand for the components is surging as miners are able to recoup their initial investment quicker.
A complete mining rig, which is made up of graphics cards, a processor, power supply, memory, cabling and a fan, costs between $2,400 to $3,800 on Amazon.com. The Antminer S9, which is estimated to mine 0.29 bitcoin per month, and retails for $2,795, which means you can break even in about four months with bitcoin at $2,700, without taking into account electricity costs. Miners typically buy complete rigs or build them themselves.
The following are some of the companies that make the parts.
The Santa Clara, Calif-based company manufactures graphic processing units used by gamers and increasingly, by digital-currency miners. GPUs listed in Nvidia's website can cost as much as $1,200. The rig-mining market can grow to about $1.3-billion, and with GPUs making up approximately 2/3 of coin mining costs, the demand for GPUs can increase to $875 million, according to a RBC Capital Markets report on June 6. If Nvidia gets half of that, it represents a 10-per-cent increase on its GPU sales, RBC analyst Mitch Steves said in an interview. The company currently has about 75 per cent of the GPU market, according to a Jon Peddie Research report.
The complexity of mining bitcoin has increased to the point that GPUs aren't powerful enough, and miners are mostly using application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs, which Nvidia and competitor Advanced Micro Devices don't make. Tech news website Digitimes reported Nvidia and AMD are planning to release GPUs specifically designed to mine bitcoin.
Shares of Nvidia have climbed 45 per cent this year, and have more then tripled in the past year.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
AMD, as the company is known, also makes graphics cards used for mining ethereum and other coins. The Sunyvale, Calif.-based company's shares have rallied the most in the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index in the past week, in part thanks to a PCWorld article that said it's almost "impossible" to get AMD's Radeon graphics cards after a surge in demand from ethereum miners.
The company also builds the processors typically used to build mining rigs, and its Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster said at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference its product compete with bigger rival Intel Corp.
The shares are up 27 per cent in the past month, and have almost tripled over 12 months.
Digital currency mining has the potential to boost demand for Intel's processors, said Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. While AMD CPUs are popular among miners, Intel is the traditional leader in the sector and is taking steps to counter its fledgling rival.
The company's shares have lagged rivals, with a gain of 17 per cent in the past year.
Micron Technology Inc.
Boise, Idaho-based Micron is the largest U.S. maker of memory chips, one of the components of a mining rig, so it also stands to benefit, Mr. Cassidy said.
Micron shares have surged almost 50 per cent this year, and have more then doubled in the past 12 months.