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Japanese households snapping up PCs

PC shipments in Japan jumped 10 percent in the fiscal year ended in March 1999, driven by a surge in PCs purchased by households.

Japanese PC shipments jumped 10 percent in the fiscal year ended in March 1999, driven by a surge in computers purchased by households, a segment that had been lagging behind the U.S. market.

The Japan Electronic Industry Development Association (JEIDA) reported this week that PC shipments were up 10 percent to a record 7.53 million units. JEIDA had originally forecast 7.2 million units for the fiscal year 1998, which ended this March.

The Association attributed much of the rise to a spike in purchases by Japanese households. Slim notebook PCs and newfangled desktop designs such as Apple Computer's iMac desktop have proved particularly popular for household buyers.

Despite a market malaise in the beginning of the fiscal year, there was sudden strong recovery in the consumer PC market in the summer which lasted throughout the rest of the year, pushing sales up 28 percent in the fourth quarter over the same period in the previous year, the report said.

Portable PC sales increased 18 percent over the previous year to 3.56 million units. Desktops were up 4 percent to 3.97 million.

The Association cited three major trends:

• A strong showing in the cutting-edge desktop market which includes compact desktops with LCD screens.
• Ultra-thin notebook PCs and those with large LCD screens. Sony's Vaio model has proved popular.
• The overall surge in demand for consumer PCs.

But the report added that on a "money value" basis the value of unit shipments in the domestic market dropped slightly from last year. It attributed this to a fall-off in the cost of LCD screens and microprocessors.

Also, a report in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a major Japanese business daily, said this upbeat market may not carry over into the current fiscal year. The newspaper said that once companies have upgraded their computers to prepare for potential Y2K problems, they may refrain from buying new PCs for some time after that.

Also, in reference to the solid figures for the fiscal year ended in March, the newspaper said the release of Windows 98 was a major factor in the sudden sales spike that occurred during the summer period.