Wall Street Beat: PCs flag as smartphones provide sparks

Smartphones boost Nokia, Samsung fortunes but PC sales drag

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Vendor earnings, market research reports and the International CES in Las Vegas this week highlighted the hardware arena, which appears to be a tale of two sectors with very different fates: PCs and mobile devices.

The PC market continues to be depressed, but smartphones and tablets, as well as their related components, appear poised for solid growth.

2012 ended with a whimper for the PC industry. Global PC shipments totaled 89.8 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, down 6.4 percent year over year, according to an IDC report released Thursday. The fourth-quarter total was worse than the expected decline of 4.4 percent, IDC said. The bottom line was that Windows 8 did not boost the hardware market as much as expected. It was the first time in more than five years the PC market dipped year over year during the holiday season.

"The PC market continued to take a back seat to competing devices and sustained economic woes," IDC said in a statement accompanying the report.

Windows 8 PCs were themselves to blame to some extent.

"Consumers expected all sorts of cool PCs with tablet and touch capabilities. Instead, they mostly saw traditional PCs that feature a new OS (Windows 8) optimized for touch and tablet with applications and hardware that are not yet able to fully utilize these capabilities," said Jay Chou, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

Morgan Stanley is concerned enough about these issues that it downgraded its recommendation on Microsoft's stock. The investment bank changed its Microsoft rating from Overweight, the equivalent of a "buy" ranking, to Equal Weight, or a "hold." Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a Thursday research note that they don't expect improvement in the PC market anytime soon because, among other reasons, businesses' upgrade cycle to Windows 7 is getting closer to completion.

While Microsoft has insisted that the more than 60 million Windows 8 licenses sold so far are in line with Windows 7 sales at a similar point in its release cycle, those licenses are what have been shipped to vendors -- not necessarily copies of Windows installed on machines that have sold through to end users.

Other analysts also had a dour outlook.

"We believe the PC market will continue to face headwinds in 2013 with high PC platform prices and little Win8 excitement continuing to be a drag," said Sterne Agee in a research report this week.

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