3 Best-Performing Stocks in May

By Brian Feroldi Markets Fool.com

Growth stocks tend to be volatile, especially during earnings season. That's why it isn't uncommon for companies -- even large ones -- to rise or fall dramatically during the course of a single month.

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May was no exception. Dozens of stocks from the S&P 500jumpedor fell by double-digits during the month. Here's a closer look atthree companies from the famous index -- Autodesk(NASDAQ: ADSK),First Solar(NASDAQ: FSLR), and NVIDIA(NASDAQ: NVDA) -- that put up the biggest gains.

Image source: Getty Images.

The transition is taking holding

Shares of Autodesk rose more than 24% in May in response to producing an upbeat earnings report. The maker of architecture, engineering, and media software posted total quarterly revenue of $485.7 million. While this figure was down 5% when compared to the year-ago period, it was comfortably ahead of what Wall Street had predicted. The quarterly non-GAAP net loss of $0.16 per share was also better than expected.

Autodesk's top line has been under pressure as it transitions its business model away from one-time license sales and toward a software-as-a-service model. While this change provides the company with a recurring stream of revenue, it also delays recognition while having a negative affect the top line.Traders looked right past the revenue dip and instead chose to focus on the 233,000 subscription customers that were adding during the quarter.

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Turning to the full year, management predicted that its recurring revenue base would increase by 24% to 26% as it plans on growing its subscriber base by at least 600,000 users. That news pleased Wall Street and triggered two analysts upgrades. Given all of the positivity, it is easy to understand why shares took off.

The power of low expectations

2017 was predicted to be a bad year for solar companies, but First Solar's first-quarter results painted a different picture. Sales rose by 2% to $891 million, and the company produced a small profit of $0.09 per share. These figures were far ahead of the $668 million in revenue and the net loss of $0.13 analysts had predicted.

First Solar's management team also said that its first quarter was so strong it was raising its full-year guidance. The new range calls for $2.9 billion in sales at the midpoint, which is up $50 million from its prior outlook. On a non-GAAP basis, EPS is expected to land between $0.25 to $0.75, which also bested expectations. Taken together, the company's upbeat first-quarter results and raised guidance caused shares to rally more than 25% in May.

There's little doubt that this good news took the markets by surprise. First Solar's stock has been heavily shorted, which is a big reason shares have been under pressure. However, it now appears that 2017 is going to be a much better year for solar manufacturers than many had expected. If the negative sentiment continues to abate, then First Solar's stock might be in a great position to post a strong recovery.

Firing on all cylinders

Standing in direct contrast to First Solar, optimism abounds for the graphics card maker NVIDIA. The company's stock has been red-hot over the past year as demand for its chips continues to be strong in all of the market segments in which it competes. That optimism has stretched NVIDIA's valuation, which amps up the pressure on the company to continue to deliver blow-out results.

In spite of the tension, NVIDIA came through for investors when it reported on May 9: Total revenue jumped 48% to $1.94 billion, whileEPS jumped 126% to $0.79. These numbers easily surpassed the $1.91 billion in revenue and $0.66 in EPS that Wall Street had expected. The beat caused a double-digit rally on the day of the release, and traders have since bid up the company's stock more than 34% since May 1.

NVIDIA credited the big gains to surging demand from gamers and data center operators. Meanwhile, revenue from its auto business also continues to hum along. In total, the company remains well positioned for even more fast growth as interest in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and self-driving cars continue to build. While that optimism is certainly priced into the stock's valuation, I for one think there are ample reasons for investors to continue to hang on.

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Brian Feroldi has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Nvidia. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.