Following roughly six years of growth, with the last five averaging 15% increases, worldwide PC shipments were down 0.4% year on year in 4Q 2008, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.
IDC says that the weakening economic environment, including falling home and stock values, deteriorating credit, and implications for trade and consumer spending, was clearly the dominant factor limiting growth. Growth of portable PCs was cut roughly in half from nearly 40% year on year in the first three quarters of 2008 to roughly 20% in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the pressure on desktop PCs pushed volume down roughly 16% from a year ago after only a small decline earlier in the year. Mini notebook volume is estimated at near 5 million units in the fourth quarter, bringing the total for 2008 to about 10 million, accounting for nearly 7% of total portables, with shipments expected to double in 2009.
"For all that’s been said about this recession being different than 2001, the drop in PC growth from mid-teens the preceding year to near flat growth in the most recent quarter shows that the impact of this crisis looks similar to the last time around," said Loren Loverde, program director for IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. "It is tempting to argue that international markets will be less affected, or that low prices and the transition to portables will limit the impact, but the market has taken a serious hit and the competitive environment along with a race to low-cost portables could easily undermine profits from mobile computing. I won’t be surprised if recovery gets pushed further into 2010 as this crisis unfolds."
Regionally, for the United States, the change in growth from the first three quarters was not as dramatic as in other regions. IDC says this reflects relatively slow growth early in the year and the unexpected speed with which the financial crisis spread to other regions. Tighter budgets across segments were evident in a 16% decline in Dell volume, and a decline of 3% from HP. Nevertheless, the next three vendors (Acer, Apple, and Toshiba) all managed year-on-year gains with growth in portables.
In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), PC market growth slowed to single-digits, but remained positive despite the global recession. Portables remained a key market driver with growth of roughly 25% despite slowing from previous quarters. IDC says that portable PC adoption continued to be fueled by consumer demand in the run-up to Christmas and the strong vendor and telco push of mini notebooks. Nevertheless, the desktop market contracted further, with continued cannibalization from portables and a slowdown in business renewals.
The Japanese market was fairly resilient, coming in slightly above projections and ahead of 3Q 2008 growth. Desktop volume declined notably, but portables compensated. The global credit crunch put some pressure on spending, but a relatively stable economy and strong currency helped drive growth along with strong mini notebook shipments.
In Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), economic pressures had a significant impact on China and India in the fourth quarter while channel issues added to the challenges in India. Other countries in the region also faced challenges including disruptive politics and exchange rates. More cellular operators started to provide mini notebook bundles, but the results of this have been mixed and were unable to sustain shipment volume in the region.
HP managed to stay ahead of the market with single-digit growth and easily held the top PC vendor slot this quarter. Dell had disappointing results in the United States and EMEA, with a significant drop in U.S. volume. IDC says that expanding mini notebook SKUs across the price spectrum should continue to enhance Dell’s position in the market.
For Acer, efforts to penetrate the retail channel helped Acer significantly increase shipments in the United States despite competitive and economic pressure. Lenovo's struggles reflected the softening worldwide economy as the company announced aggressive restructuring and layoffs moving into the new year. Toshiba saw overall growth near 20% with solid growth in all regions except APeJ. The company continues to benefit from its portable focus, and outpaced worldwide portables growth in the fourth quarter.
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