Tokyo Olympics, US tariffs Trump Europe's Brexit shakes as global PC shipments balloon to fattest figure in 7 years

Extra $37bn levy on notebooks, slabs pushes American retailers to panic buy, buy, buy

Bad tech buyers

Businesses heading for the Windows 7 escape hatch and US retailers panic-buying ahead of the next round of trade tariffs helped PC shipments rise globally in Q3 at the fastest rate in seven-and-a-half years.

This is according to sales-in figures collated by number-cruncher Canalys: 70.9 million desktops, notebooks and workstations were estimated to have made their way into the channel, up 4.7 per cent year-on-year, the highest growth since Q1 2012.

On the global stage, the biggest spike was reported in Japan, where businesses are refreshing their PC estates before Microsoft pulls the plug on extended support for the venerable operating system, scheduled for January.

Preparations for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and the hike in the country's consumption tax from 8 to 10 per cent – which kicked in on 1 October – also kept the sales dial swinging upwards. Shipments in the region went up 63 per cent to 4.5 million.

Over in the US, sales were up 3 per cent on a busy back-to-school period and PC vendors loading up the channel before tariff-happy US President Trump imposes yet another trade duty on Chinese imports. The additional 10 per cent levy due in December covers $300m worth of goods. Canalys estimated this would equate to a $37bn tariff on notebooks and tablets.

Shipments in EMEA were up just 2 per cent, and "uncertainty over Brexit and its outcome restrained demand", said the analyst. There was some apprehension among businesses about investing for the long term, it added.

Three vendors – Lenovo, HP and Dell – accounted for almost four out of every five in every PCs sold in the quarter, or 79.6 per cent, as the trio used their purchasing might to secure priority on the Intel CPUs that were available. Chipzilla's CPUs have been in tight supply since September last year and this won't ease in 2019.

Lenovo was up 7.2 per cent to 17.3 million units; HP was up 8.5 per cent to 16.7 million; and Dell was up 5.2 per cent to a little more than 12 million. Apple was fourth with 5.376 million shipments and Acer was barely up, 0.8 per cent, to 4.9 million PCs.

"The PC market high is refreshing," said Rushabh Doshi, research director at Canalys. "However, there is a limit to how quickly leading vendors can ramp production."

He added: "Intel remains a bottleneck, with pressure on its 14nm CPU supply not likely to see improvement until Q1 2020."

Also out are PC stats from IDC, which counted 70.4 million shipments in the quarter, equating to year-on-year growth of 3 per cent.

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at the analyst, concurred that the trade tension between the world's two largest economies was feeding into the supply chain, though he also noted the challenges of bulking up on inventory.

"With higher tariffs on the horizon, PC makers once again began to push additional inventory during the quarter though the process was a bit more difficult as many faced supply constraints from Intel, leaving more room for AMD to grow."

Ubrani said "most notebook manufacturers" had readied themselves to shift production to other countries including Vietnam and Taiwan.

The world view of PC sales differed slightly, according to Gartner: it pegged shipments at 68.115 million, up just 1.1 per cent year-on-year. Windows 10 refreshes fuelled sales into the channel, it said.

The analyst claimed that neither Intel's CPU shortage nor the US China trade war had an influence on sales.

"The Intel CPU shortage has continued to ease, and the US tariffs on China-built mobile PCs had a minimal impact on PC shipments as the date of the potential tariffs was pushed out," claimed Gartner's Mikako Kitagawa.

PC makers have integrated more chips from AMD and Qualcomm, Gartner said, to compensate for Intel's relative lack of product, Gartner added. One thing Gartner did agree with Canalys on was the line-up of the vendors. ®

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