3 Top Artificial Intelligence Stocks to Buy in December

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These days, artificial intelligence is showing up in all sorts of new services. There's a reason: The use of AI is growing fast, and businesses putting it to good use are unlocking efficiencies and delivering better experiences to their customers. According to tech researcher IDC, global spending on AI is expected to have increased more than 12% this year and to top $156 billion.

That's impressive given the current state of world affairs, and AI is expected to continue its expansion for the foreseeable future. If investing in the artificial intelligence trend for the long-haul is your goal, Dynatrace (NYSE:DT), Marvell Technology Group (NASDAQ:MRVL), and Medallia (NYSE:MDLA) stocks are worth serious looks. Let's take a closer look at these three companies.

Someone holding a tablet. A brain illustrated with electrical connections hovers above the screen.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

1. Dynatrace: Real-time AI-based cloud analytics

Cloud software outfit Dynatrace competes in the same big data analytics industry as Splunk and Datadog, but this has turned into a massive market in the last year. Organizations have been scrambling to update their operations during the pandemic, and often that means increasing their reliance on cloud-based computing systems and services. CEO John Van Siclen told me that has equated to a more-than-50% total addressable market increase to $32 billion a year for cloud observability software, so there's plenty of new business to go around for companies like Dynatrace and its peers. 

Dynatrace specifically is still a relatively small player in this space, with annual recurring revenue of $638 million during its fiscal 2021 second quarter (the three months ended Sept. 30, 2020). That's a 35% increase over the same period last year. I like the company's chances at maintaining momentum headed into the new calendar year. Dynatrace focuses its attention on the world's largest organizations, and as effects from the pandemic ease and corporate budgets start to unthaw, lots of them will be in need of new tools to help them manage the digital era we've all been hoisted into. 

This cloud observability platform will rank high when the decision to purchase such software comes up. Dynatrace helped pioneer “cloud observability,” moving the industry beyond just simple data logs and a user interface full of charts and graphs. Dynatrace goes a step further and uses real-time AI and analytics to give an organization deeper insight into what is happening with its cloud systems, and then suggests next action steps if problems need to be addressed. Modern tech infrastructure is massive and still growing, so any help for already-strapped IT teams would be a welcome change of pace. 

Van Siclen told me the biggest challenge facing his company is hiring enough sales support to get in contact with all of these large organizations. Unlike many high-growth software names, Dynatrace is well into free-cash-flow-positive territory (revenue less cash operating capital expenditures), making expanding its payroll that much easier. And at 18 times trailing 12-month sales, it's a relative value compared to some of its peers (like Datadog, which is currently trading for a ludicrous 57 times 12-month sales). I'll be looking to add to my small position in Dynatrace before the end of the year. 

2. Medallia: Gaining insight from consumer experiences

Medallia is a new stock for me, one I stumbled across recently looking for new small companies to invest in. Medallia is an analytics outfit that specializes in “digital experience management.” According to data compiled by stock research tool Noonum, Medallia competes against elements of software giant SAP, as well as other smaller names like SVMK (better known as Survey Monkey) and NICE.

Even though many companies have been migrating customer-facing sales and service tools to a digital model, it hasn't been easy going for software like Medallia's, which helps those companies gain insight into the quality of their customers' experiences. As mentioned earlier, corporate budgets have been under pressure because of the pandemic. However, Medallia's AI-based service has continued to grow anyway. It captures business, customer, and employee interactions on calls and on digital channels like apps and social media, and gives the organization predictive action steps to improve the experience. In a world coping with remote work and social distancing, no wonder Medallia has still managed to grow.

It costs money upfront, but experience management software like Medallia's can ultimately help a company keep existing customers happy, and win new ones with better digital interactions. In this experience management software industry, Medallia has been differentiating itself with its AI-enhanced service. Even in a less-than-ideal 2020, subscription revenue growth has remained above 20% every quarter — including a 22% year-over-year increase in Q3. 

Medallia does still operate at a slight loss (free cash flow was negative $26 million in the first nine months of the year), but it's on a clear path to profitability in an increasingly important segment of the software world. As more human interaction moves online, I think Medallia has room to run. And at just shy of 11 times 12-month sales, shares look like an attractive value for the long-haul.

3. Marvell: New chips for a new era of computing

Semiconductor designer Marvell has been busy this year. It followed up its acquisition of 5G mobile network chip outfit Avera at the tail end of 2019 with the announcement that it was purchasing Inphi (NASDAQ:IPHI) for $10 billion. Inphi's high-speed data movement components and optical solutions expand on Marvell's core competencies in processor chips, and they will help the company double down on its growing markets, like AI and 5G. 

The Inphi tie-up could be a big deal for Marvell. AI applications require a massive amount of data to operate properly. The movement of that data puts new stress on data centers (where much of AI work is done these days), and hardware that can handle these new requirements is enjoying rising demand. NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) has distinguished itself in this department with its portfolio of semiconductors well-suited to AI needs — but as stated at the onset of this article, global AI spending is significant and growing quickly. There is more than enough room for multiple hardware players, and Marvell's lineup of chips is well-suited for the job. 

That showed up in the company's Q3 numbers. Revenue grew 13% year-over-year, and profitability also notched a sharp improvement as Avera has gotten integrated into Marvell. Free cash flow was $562 million through the first nine months of the year, up 135% from a year ago. The bottom line will likely improve further once Inphi's higher-margin business also joins the Marvell family.

AI and related markets will be an important end-market for Marvell, and it has positioned itself as a top name on the hardware side of the equation. I think it's a top stock in the semiconductor industry for the decade ahead with its portfolio of products addressing high-end computing needs of the future.

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