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Tuesday, 03 March 2009 08:52

Gartner predicts horror 2009 for PC industry, worst decline ever

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IT analyst group Gartner has officially said what we've all known and feared since the last quarter of 2008 - the PC industry is going to suffer its worst decline on record this year. Not even the burgeoning netbooks market can save the market from a decline that will make the dot com and post Y2K busts seem like booms.

{loadposition stan}Gartner predicts PC shipments totaling 257 million units in 2009, a devastating 11.9% decline from 2008. Previously, PC units experienced their worst decline in 2001 when unit shipments contracted 3.2%.

The extent of the decline is testimony to the extraordinary weakness of the global economy, where the PC market has in the past proven to be remarkably resilient. According to Gartner, cash strapped PC users are simply making do with what they have and not being drawn into new purchases.

“The PC industry is facing extraordinary conditions as the global economy continues to weaken, users stretch PC lifetimes and PC suppliers grow increasingly cautious,” said George Shiffler, research director at Gartner.

Unlike in previous downturns, where emerging growth markets escaped the downturns of mature markets and vice versa, things appear to be bad all over, according to Gartner.

Both emerging and mature markets are forecast to suffer unprecedented market slowdowns. Up to this point, emerging markets collectively recorded their lowest growth in 2002, 11.1%. Mature markets recorded their lowest growth in 2001, negative 7.9%. Both emerging and mature markets will handily surpass these previous lows in 2009, with emerging markets expected to post a decline of 10.4% and mature markets a decline of 13%.

“Growth in both emerging and mature markets will be driven by similar dynamics even if the precise impacts vary somewhat. Slower GDP growth will generally weaken demand and slow new penetration, lengthening PC lifetimes will reduce replacements, and supplier caution will keep inventories at historic lows until confidence in a recovery eventually firms,” Mr. Shiffler said.

“The impact of reduced replacements will be especially acute in mature markets, where replacements are estimated to account for around 80% of shipments.”

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Worldwide mobile PC shipments are expected to reach 155.6 million units, a 9% increase from 2008. Desk-based PC shipments are forecast to total 101.4 million units, a 31.9% decline from 2008. Mobile PC growth will be substantially boosted by continued growth in mini-notebook shipments; excluding mini-notebooks, other mobile PC shipments will grow just 2.7% in 2009.

{loadposition stan}Worldwide mini-notebook shipments are forecast to total 21 million units in 2009, up from 2008 shipments of 11.7 million units. Mini-notebooks will cushion the overall PC market slowdown, but they remain too few to prevent the market’s steep decline. Mini-notebooks are forecast to represent just 8% of PC shipments in 2009.

"The mini-notebook market is dividing as vendors offer more systems with 9” to 10” screens in addition to those to with 7” to 8” screens,” said Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner.

“For the most part, users are moving toward systems with larger screens and greater capabilities; systems with 8.9” screens were the standard in the second half of 2008. Naturally, systems with larger screens and greater capabilities cost more but prices in general continue to fall. In late 2008, the average price in the U.S. for a mini-notebook with an 8.9” screen, Microsoft Windows XP and a 160 GB hard drive was around $450.

"We expect the average price of the same machine to drop to $399 by the end of this year. Mature markets continue to be the primary consumers of mini-notebooks, but as prices continue to fall, they are likely to attract increasing numbers of emerging market buyers.”

Gartner analysts said overall, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the channels are able to react much faster to changing market conditions than in previous years. Razor thin margins and the lessons learned in 2001 have schooled PC vendors and channels in the necessity to invest in their supply chains. These investments have given them much better visibility of demand, even though products are largely being built in Asia by third parties and therefore have long lead times.

“Normal seasonality typically means that the third quarter sell in is stronger than sell out, due to inventory build effects, but clearly in the fourth quarter of 2008 vendors saw signals that demand was weakening and sent signals up the supply chain to stop building,” said Charles Smulders, managing vice president at Gartner.

“At the same time, the channel cut back inventory due to a combination of economic uncertainty and the credit squeeze. Unlike 2001, vendors were able to react relatively quickly to the signals and push the inventory risk on to the component suppliers. We expect the pattern of stronger sell out demand than sell in to continue through the first half of 2009, with the channel choosing to hold inventory at historically low levels.”

So there you have it, it's going to be a bad year for the industry but if you happen to be lucky enough to be a cashed up consumer, there are likely to be some PC bargains to be had.

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Stan Beer

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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