HP back on top of PC market

Amid a growing but difficult market, Hewlett-Packard overtakes Dell to become the world's largest PC maker in the fourth quarter.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
Hewlett-Packard overtook Dell to become the world's largest PC maker in the fourth quarter in a market that is both growing and growing more difficult.

PC shipments grew 12 percent to 15 percent in the fourth quarter in terms of units and around 11 percent for 2003 as a whole, according to, respectively, research firms Gartner and IDC, substantially more than predictions from a year ago. In 2004, shipments are expected to grow 10.9 percent worldwide according to Gartner and 11.4 percent according to IDC. (Both firms count notebooks, desktops and servers with x86 chips, but their methodologies slightly differ, accounting for the variation.)

PC sales growth Still, much of the growth can be attributed to price cuts, which are neutralizing growth in revenue. In 2000, 140.2 million PCs left factories and accounted for an estimated $226 billion in value, or revenue, in the market, said Roger Kay, an analyst with IDC. In 2003, a record 152.6 million PCs were shipped, but they carried an estimated value of $175 billion, a $51 billion decline. In fact, the 136.7 million PCs shipped in 2002 probably accounted for $175 billion in value, meaning that in dollar terms the past two years have been close to equal.

"We were surprised by the strength of the consumer market and a little surprised by the growth in the notebook segment," said Charles Smulders, an analyst with Gartner. "But I would say that in Q4 and in 2003, much of the growth has been driven by price cuts."

Still, major computer makers have a reason to smile. Most of their PC shipments grew faster than the market and further growth is expected as PC makers begin to sell more flat panel TVs and consumer electronics products that plug into desktops or notebooks, Kay and Smulders said. Component prices have also mostly been dropping at the same time, so the cuts are necessarily falling on the shoulders of PC makers.

"We saw the beginning of a recovery somewhere around the middle of the year," Kay said. The growth caused both firms to up their forecasts more than once during the year.

Numbers, numbers
HP's quarter was largely driven by the company's success in the consumer market and in Europe. Dell doesn't sell many PCs through retail stores and typically gives up some ground to competitors during the last three months of the year as a result. The strength of the euro also likely helped HP as Europe is one of HP's strongest markets.

Worldwide, HP achieved a market share of 16.9 percent in the fourth quarter, up 21.7 percent from its market share of 16 percent in the fourth quarter a year ago, according to IDC.

Dell, meanwhile, achieved a worldwide market share in the fourth quarter of 16.3 percent, up 19.7 percent from its market share of 15.6 percent a year ago. Overall, the market grew 15.2 percent, according to IDC. HP and Dell have traded off the lead a number of times since HP completed its merger with Compaq in spring 2002.

For the year, though, Dell remained No. 1, hitting a worldwide market share of 16.9 percent, up 25 percent from the overall figure for 2002 of 15.1 percent. HP's annual market share came in at 16.4 percent worldwide, up 14.5 percent from its share of 16 percent for 2002 as a whole.

In the United States, Dell stayed on top with a 30.2 percent market share for the fourth quarter and at 30.9 percent for the year. HP came in with a 21.7 percent share for the quarter and a 20.6 percent for the year in the United States.

"So they can share the crown in a gentlemanly way," Kay said.

Third place IBM, meanwhile, which caters almost exclusively to business customers, saw its market share worldwide grow to 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003, up 17.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2002. IBM was also third in the United States.

"IBM's strong performance is one signal that the business market is improving," Smulders said. "But with falling prices, our concern is that businesses are buying more units but they aren't spending more money."

Among other companies with notable results, eMachines jumped into the top five manufacturers in the United States, according to Kay, passing both Gateway and Apple Computer. Toshiba, meanwhile, was in the top five in the United States and worldwide because of notebook sales.

By contrast, Gateway saw its market share shrink in the fourth quarter, Smulders said. Apple also saw its market share stay below the 2 percent mark worldwide in 2003 and below the 3 percent mark in the United States for the year, Smulders said.

Geographically, Europe was the world's fastest-growing region, a contrast to when it was a laggard not long ago. PC shipments grew by 19 percent there for the year, according to IDC. U.S. shipments grew by 15.4 percent while Asia came in at 14 percent, slightly short of expectations. Shipments in Japan slowed to single digits after the passage of a recycling law.