Economic downturn cancels out 15% annual PC market growth

Separate reports released almost in tandem this morning by two of the world's three leading hardware analysis firms, show that what could have been a stellar year for PC manufacturers was wiped out in one quarter.

The downturn is being felt more keenly by Dell, which saw its annual growth rate slow by about 6 percent, according to figures from IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker report and preliminary figures from Gartner. That company lost about one point of market share in the process, and its slim lead over HP in US unit shipments narrowed even further -- from about 5 points to about 1.1 points, according to Gartner's numbers.

In the fourth quarter, both groups agree that HP gained a fraction of a point of market share worldwide. According to IDC's figures, almost one PC in five shipped somewhere in the world bears the logo of HP or an HP division.

What may be even worse news for Dell, however: Acer is gaining very, very fast. Granted, its growth rates are deceptive -- 31.1% annual growth worldwide according to Gartner, 25.3% according to IDC. But even if you exclude merged entities such as Packard Bell, Gateway, and eMachines and just focus on the Acer brand alone, its Q4 shipment growth is still an astonishing 15.5%, IDC says.

What's the reason: Netbooks, say Gartner's analysts. Acer had a very strong netbook product line earlier than any of the other top five manufacturers, and once you incorporate them into the mix, the result is that Acer's shipment numbers are closing in on Dell's, to within a single point of market share. Dell did have a comfortable margin of 5 points or higher the previous year. Lenovo -- which has only now started producing its own netbooks -- may have given up market share to Acer at the end of the last quarter.

Q4 2008 worldwide PC unit shipments (thousands)

Manufacturer Q4 2008 shipments 2008 Market share Q4 2007 shipments 2007 Market share Annual growth
Gartner 14,915.4 19.1% 14,405.0 18.7% + 3.5%
IDC 15,190 19.6% 14,726 19.0% + 3.1%
Gartner 10,319.7 13.2% 10,971.7 14.2% - 5.9%
IDC 10,616 13.7% 11,325 14.6% - 6.3%
Gartner 9,637.3 12.3% 7,351.3 9.5% + 31.1%
IDC 9.112 11.8% 7,272 9.4% + 25.3%
Gartner 5,549.2 7.1% 5,808.4 7.5% - 4.5%
IDC 5,549 7.2% 5,830 7.5% - 4.8%
Gartner 3,654.9 4.7% 3,026.9 3.9% + 20.7%
IDC 3,670 4.7% 3,054 7.5% + 20.2%
Gartner 34,006.4 43.6% 35,632.7 3.9% - 4.6%
IDC 33,169 42.9% 35,444 45.6% - 6.4%
Gartner 78,082.9 100% 77,195.9 100% + 1.1%
IDC 77,305 100% 77,651 100% - 0.4%

In the US, Apple remains on a steady upward pattern, with shipments growing by 8.3% over Q4 2007 according to Gartner to 1.25 million units, or 7.5% according to IDC to a very similar figure.

One of the biggest discrepancies between the two firms' analyses concerns the rate of decline in shipments to US customers, for all PC manufacturers combined. Gartner is concluding the nationwide market declined by a stunning 10.1% to 15.6 million units; IDC's nationwide figures are more conservative, estimating a 3.5% decline to 17.3 million units. IDC has a far greater number of units shipped by manufacturers "other" than the nation's top 5: 4.1 million versus 2.2 million.

For the full year, HP held on to the world's number one spot in units shipped, with just under 57 million units shipped according to both firms. HP gained 0.3% of total market share for 2008, also say both firms, while Dell gained 0.1%. It was only in the last quarter that the biggest damage was done. Otherwise, what was expected to be a 15% growth year for PCs overall was trimmed to 10.9% according to Gartner, 10.5% according to IDC.

Final estimates from iSuppli have yet to be published.

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