PC sales growth stumbles in US but global demand keeps orders strong

Sales of personal computers were hit by weaker-than-expected demand from businesses in the first quarter of this year, although robust consumer demand made up for some of the slowdown in growth.

Figures from the industry analysts Gartner show that, geographically, growth in the US was particularly badly hit, but that other areas around the globe performed strongly, resulting in decent overall sales growth worldwide for the main manufacturers.

Charles Smulders, the vice-president of Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide Group, said: "The shortfall in the US market was made up for by stronger-than-expected growth in Europe, the Middle East and African regions."

Even in the regions that did well, strong consumer demand was responsible for overcoming weak figures from business customers.

One explanation for the weakness in demand from business was the impact on purchasing decisions of IBM's announcement in December that it planned to sell its PC business to Lenovo, the Chinese manufacturer.

Ranjit Atwal, at Gartner, said: "The IBM/Lenovo deal caused many businesses to re-examine the viability of the major PC suppliers.... Dell and IBM felt the greatest impact of this."

Dell, the world's biggest PC maker, saw its growth rate fall below 20 per cent for the first time in two and a half years, according to Gartner, pulled down by the weak US market. In the first quarter it had a 16.9 per cent market share, shipping 8.52 million PCs, compared with 7.49 million in the same quarter last year - a growth rate of 13.7 per cent.

IBM surprised investors last week by reporting that revenues and profits in the first quarter of the year were below expectations because of sluggish sales. Gartner's figures show that Apple had a global market share of 4.6 per cent in the first three months of the year, down from 5 per cent last year.

Worldwide, PC sales rose 10.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2005, to reach 50.4 million, but in the US sales grew just 2.3 per cent. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa sales were 14.5 per cent ahead, with 17 million PCs shipped in the first three months of the year.

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