Slowdown in global PC shipments pinned on escalating US-China trade war and CPU shortage

The PC market recorded its worst-performing quarter since Q3 2016, but saw positive signs in Western Europe

Illustration depicting the ongoing US-China trade war

Analysts have blamed the escalating US-China trade war and a CPU shortage for a sharp year-on-year decline in global PC shipments in the fourth quarter of last year.

Despite signs of optimism in the latter half of 2018, the market suffered its worst quarter in more than two years (Q3 2016) over the previous three months, according to IDC research, with PC shipments falling 3.7% year-on-year.

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Fellow analyst firm Gartner's preliminary figures for Q4 2018 painted an even bleaker picture as the firm recorded a 4.3% decline since the same period in 2017, suggesting the fall was brought on by a CPU shortage which, in turn, created supply chain issues.

Both Gartner and IDC also declared a full year-on-year decline of 1.3% and 0.4% respectively between 2017 and 2018.

"After two quarters of growth, PC shipments declined in the fourth quarter," said Gartner's senior principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa.

"The impact from the CPU shortage affected vendors' ability to fulfil demand created by business PC upgrades. We expect this demand will be pushed forward into 2019 if CPU availability improves."

Maciek Gornicki, IDC's Asia/Pacific client devices group research manager, cited rising economic tensions as the key driver behind the market slowdown.

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"The ongoing economic tensions between China and the United States continue to create a lot of uncertainty in the business environment in China," Gornicki said.

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"As demand for Chinese products in the US drops, this particularly impacts businesses of all sizes from the manufacturing sector in China, which, in turn, translates to a drop in IT purchases by these companies.

"As a result, the PC market in China is expected to suffer bigger declines throughout the year. And if the trade war escalates further, we should expect spillover of the impact to other countries, particularly due to the expected fluctuations of the exchange rates impacting businesses across the region."

PC shipments across the EMEA region fared better than the global average, according to Gartner, falling just 3.8% year-on-year. The firm said Western Europe especially some positive signs, with demand for desktops and ultraportables fuelling SMB shipments. The public sector also benefited from further Windows 10 renewals and upgrades.

IDC said the market generally performed better than expected, with business PC refreshes particularly strong due to the looming Windows 7 end-of-support deadline, earmarked for January 2020.

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Lenovo was by far the best-performing manufacturer, according to Gartner, as it was the both the fastest growing year-on-year, 5.9%, and best-selling, moving beyond HP to claim number one position in the global rankings.

Dell and HP remained relatively stagnant and Asus and Acer suffered rather significantly in Q4 2018 compared with the period last year.

Apple, which recorded a year-on-year decline in market share from 7.2% to 6.9%, also blamed its revenue decline on the ongoing US-China trade war. It also recently announced that it intends to cut iPhone production by 10%.

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