European PC sales growth slowed in the fourth quarter last year, casting a shadow over the outlook for 1997.
According to preliminary figures released by industry analyst IDC last week, a drop in 1996 fourth quarter sales compared to 1995 meant full-year growth in Europe last year was 7.1%, down from 17% in 1995. IDC had been expecting a growth rate of about 8% or 9%.
The European decline also dragged down full-year growth in the worldwide PC market to 16%. It meant that 1996 was the first year since 1991 in which year-on-year sales did not increase by at least 20%.
Germany was hardest hit, despite having the largest market, with fourth-quarter shipments up just 4% and full-year growth down 2.6% to 3.9%.
For the final quarter, sales in Europe grew by just 6.2% compared with 20% last year, largely because of home-market saturation.
While consumer PC spending fell, IDC reported that businesses, particularly medium and large sized companies, continued investing in spite of the faltering economic climate.
According to the figures, Compaq gained market share both on a quarterly and yearly basis. Nevertheless, IDC said Compaq's 1996 share growth was hampered by weak notebook shipments in the first three quarters as the market waited for the arrival of the Armada.
Dell experienced rapid growth of 40% in sales for the year, while the combined forces of Packard Bell, NEC and ZDS drove Packard Bell/NEC into the top five vendors for 1996.
Another consolidated vendor, Fujitsu, made its presence felt in 1996 with an overall growth of 111%. According to IDC, the company, which took over the PC business of its ICL subsidiary last year, was assisted by its onslaught in the German retail channel following the demise of Escom last year.
Fiona Macrae, programme manager of IDC's Western European personal systems expertise centre, said the fourth quarter in particular had been very unsatisfactory.
"Although 1996 was something of a disappointing year, the relative strength of the business market provided good revenue potential. Those vendors offering business solutions, demonstrating competitive lead times and strong brand image were the real winners," she added.
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