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Netbook Sales Strong

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The PC industry shipped 67.2 million units during first quarter — down 6.5 percent from a year ago, according to new stats from researcher Gartner.

However, that’s good news: Gartner earlier had expected sales to drop 10 percent.

“The quarter wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be,” said George Shiffler, research director for Gartner. “The bright spot is that things turned out a little better than everyone expected. Netbooks and low price mobiles really drove a lot of the growth.”

The market was dominated by low-end notebooks and netbooks as the few people who were shopping were quite cost-conscious. Also, reflecting what Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) said in its Q1 earnings call, Gartner found that the consumer market held up far better than the professional/business market.

As proof, HP (NYSE: HPQ) picked up a little ground, climbing 2.6 percent year-over-year to take 19.8 percent of the market, while Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) fell 16.9 percent year-over-year to second place with 13.1 percent of the total market.

Acer, which now includes Gateway as part of its product family, was right on Dell’s tail with 8.75 million units sold to Dell’s 8.79 million units sold, giving Dell 13.0 percent of the market and 26.7 percent growth. Acer has both low-cost desktops and notebooks as well as a healthy netbook market.

“Dell is very much a professional play, and while we don’t have the data to support it, what cases we do have show the professional market took quite a hit,” said Shiffler. “If there was a surprise, it’s that the consumer market held up as well as it did. But I think it held up because prices fell and that pulled people in.”

PC shipments in the U.S. totaled 15.3 million units in the first quarter of 2009, a 0.3 percent against 2008. Asia/Pacific, which excludes Japan, saw a 5.5 percent decline from the first quarter of 2008, with Asia reflecting the same conditions as the U.S.; consumer holding up better than professional sales.

Japan’s business situation was even worse as it goes through severe economic ails. Overall PC sales fell 3.8 percent, but in the professional market, PC sales fell 18 percent. It was offset by 17 percent growth in the home market thanks to mini-notebooks and low-end mainstream notebooks.

The Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) PC market took a real hit, falling 10.2 percent decline from the same period last year, and Latin America was hit even worse, down 12.4 percent year-over-year.

The figures are shipments into distribution channels, not sales. So Shiffler said some of this strength is due to restocking. When the retailers hit the panic button in Q4 of 2008, they stopped taking new inventory and let old inventory bleed out. Now that they are sold out, they are starting to restock again, something Intel mentioned on the conference call to discuss its Q1 sales.

“I think people probably overreacted in Q4 to their pessimism and later began to see maybe things won’t be as bad as we thought and began to restock some inventory,” said Shiffler. “There is some indication that January was bad, February showed improvement and in March things started to come back.”

For that reason, Gartner will have to raise its estimates for Q2 sales. It originally expected sales to be down 12 percent, but Shiffler said that will be reassessed.

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