PC business rocked by economic turmoil

16 Oct 2008

Global PC shipments struggled to meet expectations in the third quarter, and it was only strong results in Europe that helped to offset tepid growth in other regions.

According to IDC’s quarterly PC tracker, shipments during Q3 were up 15.8pc.

“The proliferation of low-cost, portable PCs coincided perfectly with market conditions,” said Jay Chou, research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

“As more low-cost models enter the fray, a new pecking order may emerge among vendors as the market leans toward notebooks with ever-declining ASPs. What remains to be seen is how much cannibalisation will occur, and the degree to which mounting economic pressures will stifle PC market growth over the next year,” Chou said.

In the US, third-quarter sales were sluggish and this was exacerbated by the endless flurry of bad economic news. Among the bright spots, however, were the emergence of low-cost notebooks and some marginal back-to-school activities that helped to keep the quarter in positive territory. The competitive landscape has remained essentially unchanged, although Dell and Apple noticeably managed to outperform the market.

Continued buoyancy in the consumer notebook market supported another strong quarter in EMEA, as expected. Demand for mainstream notebooks remained robust in the back-to-school season, while the proliferation of low-cost ultra portables and deals through telecoms operators created additional momentum and boosted growth further.

The gloomy economic confidence in several countries showed no sign of slowing consumer demand overall, and the market also benefited from sustained demand in the business space. The financial crisis that hit Europe in October may lead to intensifying economic pressure over the coming months, but several factors inherent to the PC market across both western Europe and CEMA regions will continue to act as growth drivers.

In Japan, shipments slightly exceeded expectations in the quarter, given the current economic situation, while in the rest of the Asia-Pacific ongoing economic pressures kept the region slightly below forecasts.

“The difficult economic environment accelerated toward the end of the third quarter. The commercial segment has been constrained due to tight IT budgets, while back-to-school spending helped somewhat in maintaining momentum,” said Doug Bell, research analyst, Personal Computing.

“IDC expects the ongoing economic woes in the US to further impact consumer and commercial PC spending during the holiday season,” Bell added.

HP continues to hold its position as the worldwide leader with annual growth of 14.9pc. The recent downturn in the US economy affected the company’s overall performance both worldwide and in the US. However, the company’s vast product offerings should help it to weather the current economic climate and enable it to grow as the market begins to recover.

Dell suffered a disappointing quarter in all regions except Asia, where it grew 33.7pc year-over-year. Despite positive growth in all regions except Japan, Dell trailed the overall market with 11.4pc year-over-year growth. Dell’s direct sales approach had a more immediate impact on its US numbers compared with vendors leveraging non-direct methods. The silver lining is that Dell enjoyed a solid performance from its burgeoning retail presence.

Acer has remained focused on emerging regions and portables, helping it to claim global shipments of more than 10 million units. Like other vendors, US sales were down but the continued early embrace of ultra low-cost PCs helped Acer maintain strong growth in other regions around the world. Combined with Gateway, US shipments declined 3.2pc year-over-year, while Asia and other emerging markets maintained healthy gains.

Lenovo struggled to gain traction as small business spending slowed. Its worldwide annual growth of 7.7pc was helped by solid results from its home turf in Asia, as well as EMEA, both of which were closer to expectations compared to other regions.

Toshiba reported annual growth of 24pc, less than its second-quarter growth. Although its pace of growth dampened compared to last quarter, strong showings in EMEA, Japan, and Asia helped the company to offset limited growth in the US.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: low-cost, portable PCs were one of the few positives in a quarter characterised by sluggish sales

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years