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Wall Street Beat: Weak PC sales rain on tech stocks' parade

Marc Ferranti | April 12, 2013
Just as tech stocks were starting to rise this week, dismal PC sales reports for the first quarter burst the very short-lived bubble, causing shares of IT companies to fall back to earth Thursday.

Just as tech stocks were starting to rise this week, dismal PC sales reports for the first quarter burst the very short-lived bubble, causing shares of IT companies to fall back to earth Thursday.

As market indices hit milestone after milestone this year, PC stocks have lagged behind. This week, however, tech stocks climbed and led the markets to record highs Wednesday. After the markets closed, though, the bad news came: both Gartner and IDC reported a nosedive in first quarter PC sales.

IDC said the 13.9 percent year-over-year drop in PC sales was the worst decline it has seen since it started tracking the PC market in 1994. Both Gartner and IDC noted it was the fourth consecutive quarter of declining PC sales.

On Thursday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard and Poor's 500 index hit yet new nominal (not adjusted for inflation) highs, the Nasdaq Computer Index dropped 0.79 percent. Some of the biggest losers were companies with exposure to the PC market. Hewlett-Packard dropped US$1.44 to $20.88, Microsoft fell $1.35 to $28.93 and Intel declined $0.43 to $21.83.

In its report, IDC said global PC shipments totaled 76.3 million units in the first quarter, down 13.9 percent year over year and worse than the forecast decline of 7.7 percent.

On its part, Gartner said PC shipments totaled 79.2 million units, an 11.2 percent decline and below 80 million units for the first time since the second quarter of 2009.

"Even emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, are not expected to be a strong growth area for PC vendors," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, in the report.

Windows 8 has hurt the PC market, according to Bob O'Donnell, an IDC analyst. "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices," O'Donnell said, in the IDC report.

IDC also attributed the drop to PC buyers' unease with HP, which has undergone various leadership and strategy changes, and with Dell, which is weighing a controversial plan to go private.

Heading into earnings season, the weak PC data means potential trouble for HP, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, according to Sterne Agee analyst Vijay Rakesh ."Even after the weak February, we are lowering our estimates to represent continued challenges in the PC market," Rakesh wrote in a research note Thursday.

Weak PC sales could continue into the second quarter with, for example, notebook shipments flat to down by 2 percent to 5 percent, Rakesh said.

 

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