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Surveys: World PC shipments rebound

Worldwide PC shipments pick up their pace and grow 15 percent, salvaging a year that began with an inventory glut and economic turmoil in many emerging markets.

Worldwide personal computer shipments shot up 15 percent in the fourth quarter, surpassing analyst projections as Dell, Compaq, and Gateway had strong showings.

The fourth quarter also out-performed the year as a whole which posted an increase of 12 percent, according to report released by International Data Corporation (IDC).

Compaq's worldwide market share grew to 15.4 percent in the fourth quarter, an all-time high, according to the No.1 PC maker. Though its share dropped slightly in the U.S., Dell fell off even more domestically, widening the gap between the two.

Apple reached the No. 7 spot on the U.S. list due to the popularity of the iMac. Apple reached 4.5 percent market share in the fourth quarter, compared to 3.4 percent in the same period a year ago, and shipments increased 58 percent, far outstripping overall industry growth rates. The last time Apple was in the list of top five vendors was the third quarter of 1996.

Fourth-quarter results were fueled by holiday consumer sales and demand for Internet hardware, IDC said. Western Europe was surprisingly strong. "Shipment rates were tremendous in the fourth quarter as the region experienced a better-than-normal seasonal upswing fueled by strong consumer sales," IDC said in a statement. Strength in these two regions was somewhat offset by the pummeling impact on PC market growth of economic slumps in Japan, Asia/Pacific, and Eastern Europe, the market researcher said.

Dataquest is also releasing shipment numbers today.

While Compaq maintains its No. 1 status worldwide and in the U.S. and IBM hung on to its No. 2 ranking, Dell Computer is gaining quickly. Indeed, at this pace, Dell could soon overtake IBM, IDC's data showed.

"The U.S. market remained solid as the economy shrugged off the third quarter stock market dip and continued to boom," according to IDC.

Corporations are steadily upgrading computers and new consumers entered the market at lower price points. Apple Computer's iMac and low-cost Wintel systems fueled consumer demand, IDC said. "The year finished with a bang as bargain-conscious consumers picked up PCs in record numbers during the holiday season."

For the full year, worldwide PC factory shipments totaled 90 million, with Compaq accounting for 13.2 million of the PC units, IDC said.

"It was a big fourth quarter, with 27 million units shipped worldwide," said John Brown, manager of IDC's PC market research group. "We'd originally forecast 12 percent growth, but a surge in the U.S. and Europe propelled year-to-year growth in the fourth quarter to 15 percent," he said.

In the United States, Compaq's market share dropped slightly to 18.1 percent from the 19 percent share it held in fourth quarter 1997, while Dell sustained its momentum, rising to a 12.8 percent share from 9.9 percent a year-ago.

Gateway edged ahead of IBM to take the No. 3 spot in the U.S., both with 9.1 percent of the market, while Hewlett-Packard was No. 5 with 7.2 percent.

Underlying the shifting market were sharply contrasting growth rates, as Compaq grew between 16 and 17 percent both in the United States and worldwide from fourth quarter to fourth quarter, while Dell gained 56 percent in the same timeframe.

PC market share in U.S.--IDC*
Vendor %4Q '98 %4Q '97 % Unit Growth
Compaq 18.1 19 16
Dell 12.8 9.9 56
Gateway 9.1 8.3 33
IBM 9.1 9.9 11
HP 7.2 6.8 30
all vendors n/a n/a 15
*Fourth quarter only
Source: IDC
Such figures tell only a partial story, since industry researchers track shipments and not revenues. While shipments continue to grow in healthy double-digits, tumbling computer prices have cut into revenue growth, not to mention profitability for some struggling computer makers.

Still, healthy market share gains were posted by the world's top brands, with the top four--Compaq, IBM, Dell, and HP, in that order--accounting for 42.5 percent of all PCs shipped.

The exception was No. 5 Packard Bell NEC, which has continued to see its position slide as year-to-year growth slipped 3 percent. Its worldwide market share stands only a fraction of a percent ahead of fast-growing No. 6 PC maker Gateway, according to Dataquest.

U.S. fourth-quarter unit shipments grew 21 percent, versus forecasted growth of 18 percent, amid a surge in demand for Internet connections at home and sharply falling PC prices, IDC said. Western Europe grew 19 percent.

The U.S. and European PC markets accounted for nearly 65 percent of 1998 PC shipments, Dataquest estimated.

"It appears that over half of U.S. households now have a PC," Dataquest analyst Bill Schaub said, adding that his firm's surveys show that up to 37 percent of the U.S. now has an Internet connection. "Interest in the Internet is driving a lot of demand in the home market."

1998 worldwide market share--Dataquest*
Vendor % '98 % '97 % Unit Growth
Compaq 13.8 13.1 20.7
IBM 8.2 8.6 9.5
Dell 7.9 5.5 64.9
HP 5.8 5.3 25.5
Packard Bell NEC 4.3 5.1 -4
all vendors n/a n/a 11.2
*For all of 1998
Source: Dataquest
Japan's growth was flat and Asia's was slightly negative, while Eastern European PC shipments fell about 20 percent year-to-year, IDC's Brown said.

Compaq's global market share grew to 15.4 percent, up from the third quarter's 14.4 percent. Compaq's U.S. market share grew to 18.1 percent from 15.8 percent in the third-quarter, while Dell's share slipped to 12.8 percent from 14.1 percent.

Compaq's gains reflect its strength as the leading supplier of consumer PCs during the seasonally strong holiday sales season, and Dell's minor role in the consumer market compared to its focus on the corporate market, analysts said.

Schaub said it was more meaningful to compare fourth quarter results with the year-ago fourth quarter, which eliminates some of seasonal differences.

"Compaq gets an extra consumer bump that Dell doesn't get in the fourth quarter but don't let that obscure the fact that Dell is basically right on their tail," Dataquest's Schaub said.

Reuters contributed to this report.