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U.S. PC Market Will Reach Saturation, Again

You've heard this story before, those people in the U.S. who need a personal computer (PC) already have one, so we're done. However, that story typically starts and stops every time a new trend takes hold -- like the laptop purchase to complement the desktop computer. Clearly it goes in cycles, and here's the latest.

Worldwide PC shipments grew at a solid 9.1 percent in the third quarter of 2006 despite 'no growth' in the United States, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

While the U.S. saw demand slow considerably in 3Q06, growth in other regions was much better than expected, keeping third quarter results in line with forecasts and limiting the impact of slower U.S. sales on worldwide growth projections for the coming year.

In the United States, overall PC shipments were flat year-on-year in the third quarter versus more than 5 percent growth in the first half of 2006 and roughly 10 percent annually for 2003-2005.

Interestingly, weak demand was felt slightly more in the commercial segment than in the consumer segment -- indicating factors other than the release of Vista affected the market. The slower growth reflects a mix of poor vendor performance in the third quarter and a slower pace of replacements.

As a result, IDC reduced its forecast for growth in U.S. PC shipments over the next three quarters to low single digits. Growth will return to nearly 10 percent in the second half of 2007, however, this is a result of slower growth in 2006. Volume projections for 2007 remain lower than prior forecasts. Longer term, growth should remain near 8 percent from 2008 to 2010 as replacements and technology evolution, including adoption of portables, Vista, and new form factors, drive growth.

Outside the United States, the markets present a very different picture. Third quarter shipments were up 13.5 percent -- in line with projections for 2006 and 2007. Although growth projections fall below 10 percent for 2008-2010, the largest change in the forecast was a reduction of less than half a percent growth in 2009 with other periods almost unchanged.

In light of the third quarter results, with weak demand in the United States and a more conservative view of commercial replacements, growth projections have been lowered by roughly one percent through 2010. Nevertheless, IDC continues to expect double-digit growth through 2008, with growth slipping below 9 percent in 2009 and 2010.

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