Economy could slam PC shipments in US

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Though PC shipments grew in the first half of 2008, the economic slowdown in the U.S. could rear its ugly head on desktop and laptop sales as consumers get more price-sensitive and companies cut IT budgets, analysts said.

Shipment of PCs in the U.S. showed symptoms of an economic slowdown, recording slow growth in the first quarter of 2008, IDC said. As the U.S. economy shows more signs of slumping into a recession, consumer spending could tighten and slow the growth of shipments even more, IDC said.

PC shipments in the U.S. totaled 15.96 million units during the quarter, a 3.5 percent increase from the first quarter of 2007, according to numbers released by IDC on Tuesday.

A casualty of the U.S. economic slowdown was HP, which saw only a 0.3 percent increase in PC shipments in the U.S. during the quarter, but its worldwide PC shipments grew at a fast clip, said Doug Bell, a research analyst with IDC.

The company shipped 3.9 million units in the U.S. and was second only to Dell, which shipped 4.9 million PCs. Dell had a 15.6 percent year-over-year increase and a 30.9 percent market share, according to IDC. Acer took third place, shipping 1.4 million PCs and recording a 92.9 percent year-over-year increase. Apple shipped 95,000 units, reporting a 25.1 percent year-over-year increase, taking 4.9 percent of the market. Toshiba was in fifth place.

In contrast with the slow growth in the U.S., PC shipments will continue to grow at a fast rate worldwide, especially in emerging markets where consumer spending is on the upswing, Bell said.

According to a Gartner survey released Wednesday, PC shipments in Asia-Pacific and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) grew in the first quarter of 2008 because of increased consumer spending on laptops.

Worldwide PC shipments totaled 69.5 million units, a 14.6 percent year-over-year increase, according to IDC. HP topped Dell in shipments by selling products at competitive prices through its established retail and direct sales channels, Bell said.

HP shipped 13.3 million PCs worldwide, gaining a 19.1 percent market share and a 17.4 percent year-over-year increase, according to IDC. Dell gained ground on HP, growing shipments 21.6 percent year-over-year to 10.9 million units. Acer’s worldwide shipments grew 66 percent to 6.9 million units. Lenovo and Toshiba came in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Dell’s growing numbers are a result of the company’s addition of retail distribution to its traditional direct-sales model, Bell said. Dell didn’t have a retail strategy a year earlier, when it showed weak PC shipment growth, Bell said. Dell’s shipments will continue to grow as its retail strategy pans out, Bell said.

Acer’s recent acquisitions of PC makers Gateway and Packard Bell didn’t have a significant impact on the company’s worldwide PC shipments, Bell said. In Gateway, Acer assumed responsibility of a struggling brand, and it is too early to tell if Acer can add momentum to it, he said. Acer acquired Gateway last year for $710 million.

To counter the weak U.S. economy, many vendors are also dabbling in the low-cost PC segment, which could attract budget-conscious buyers, Bell said. Low-cost PCs, such as Asus’ Eee PC, could find a larger audience among price-sensitive buyers in the U.S. However, the market has yet to prove itself, Bell said.

Many companies are planning to launch low-cost laptops with Intel’s Atom Centrino mobile platform, based on relatively inexpensive chips that consume little power and are targeted at laptops in the $250 to $300 price range. Intel competitor Via Technologies has also announced a chip for low-cost PCs. HP has already launched a low-cost PC, and Dell and Acer have announced plans to sell low-cost PCs later this year.

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