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Gartner ups estimate for 2003 PC shipments

The researcher increases its shipment estimate for this year by 3 million units, after stronger-than-expected third-quarter shipments.

Though Gartner has increased its forecast for PC shipments in 2003 by 3 million units, the researcher says Carly Fiorina and Michael Dell shouldn't get too excited--yet.

Gartner said Friday that it now expects worldwide PC shipments to reach 164.3 million units in 2003, a 10.9 percent increase from the previous year's numbers.

Earlier this year, Gartner said shipments would increase to 161.3 million units, an 8.3 increase from 2002. That forecast, released in August, was itself a bump up from an earlier prediction.

Gartner's higher estimate comes after stronger-than-expected unit shipments of computers worldwide in the third quarter.

"We see the third-quarter results as an encouraging sign and, consequently, we have increased our forecast for the fourth quarter of 2003, as well as the year-end projections," Charles Smulders, vice president of Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide group, said in a statement. "But we remain cautious in our overall outlook."

IDC, which last revised its 2003 unit shipment forecast to 148.2 million units in September, is also expected to raise its forecast later this year. IDC and Gartner use different methods of accounting for shipments; their projections thus differ.

But despite its expectation for higher shipment numbers--which should be a cause for optimism--Gartner cautioned that a number of factors could still play a spoiler role in the fourth quarter.

Considerations such as a lack of PC demand from businesses, a slowdown in sales to consumers and a recovering global economy could all affect fourth-quarter sales.

Worldwide PC demand from businesses remains lackluster, except in Europe, where the strong euro has helped sales, Gartner said.

Meanwhile, inventory levels in the U.S. retail market were higher in October 2003 than in October 2002, Gartner said.

Higher inventories help pad shipment numbers but don't always mean that all the PCs held in back rooms at retailers are actually going home with customers. However, an increase in inventory may be a sign of optimism among retailers who expect that holiday 2003 sales will mirror the strength of 2003's strong back-to-school season.

Ultimately, a global economic recovery remains the key for a strong PC market recovery, Gartner said.

"While U.S. recovery prospects appeared to have improved significantly in recent weeks, the outlook for the rest of the world continues to remain uncertain, with many countries intently looking to the United States to pull them out of the doldrums," George Shiffler, an analyst in Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide group, said in a statement.