PC Makers Hit Hard by Economy, Shipments Expected to Stay Down

Dell, HP, Acer and Lenovo all experienced a major slowdown in 2008 fourth-quarter PC shipments, although desktop and laptop shipments did grow in the past year. In addition, Apple, Dell, HP and Lenovo additionally saw declines in their average selling prices, other research shows, which may exacerbate revenue woes.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and Lenovo all felt the full impact of the economic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2008, as PC sales slipped, according to new research from iSuppli.

This trend among laptop and desktop suppliers mimics conditions in the mobile phone and handset markets, which saw growth in 2008 but nonetheless experienced "the lowest quarter-to-quarter growth ever recorded in a fourth quarter," Gartner reported on March 2.

Global PC shipments declined 1.5 percent from the third quarter-or down to 77.9 million units from 79.1 in the third quarter. Historically, the average sequential fourth-quarter growth in the PC market is about 10 percent, iSuppli analyst Matthew Wilkins wrote in the March 5 report.

"The sequential decline in shipments is a factor of the limited availability of credit, for both businesses and consumers," Wilkins wrote. "As a result, the money that is available must be used sparingly, leaving less for PC purchases."

On March 5, Technology Business Research similarly offered good news with the bad: HP, Dell, Lenovo and Apple saw unit sales decrease 5 percent between 2007 and 2008-which it reported as quite remarkable in a "dramatic and frightening economic crisis." However, ASPs (average selling prices) fell dramatically-collectively, the four saw an ASP drop of 13 percent-which led to the truer big-picture number of an 18 percent decline in their PC revenues for 2008.

TBR attributed the decrease in selling prices partly to netbooks.

"Netbooks showed both consumer and business purchasers that, for most uses, they do not necessarily need top-of-the-line PCs," according to TBR's report. "The recession is driving customers to value-based decisions and they will retain the habit long after an economic recovery."

Going forward, PC vendors will have to make up the difference by changing their relationships with buyers, said the report.

"No longer dominated by hardware or software, PCs are becoming a service business," according to TBR.

This is a lesson that big-box vendors learned long ago.

On a side note, also noteworthy in the iSuppli report was that in the third quarter of 2008-for the first time ever-global notebook PC shipments exceeded those of desktops. This continued in the fourth quarter, with fourth-quarter notebook sales exceeding desktops by 3 percent.