Worldwide shipments of PCs will fall this year by 1.6 percent to 129.6 million units compared with last year's figure of 131.7 million units. The sharp drop in sales is largely due to significantly fewer consumer PCs being sold in the US and Japan, according to a report issued yesterday by market analyst IDC.

IDC said poor economic conditions worldwide were the main reason for falling sales and that it did not expect the release of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system at the end of next month to have a stimulating effect on the market.

Outside the US, sales of consumer PCs will be flat this year at 30 million, after recording 39 percent growth from 1999 to 2000. Sales of commercial PCs will rise by 7.8 percent outside the US this year.

Sales growth in the commercial sector is slow as there is a large base of fairly powerful computers installed and a relative lack of processor-hungry applications. This means that many businesses are postponing PC upgrades and new purchases, IDC believes.

But the worldwide PC market will rebound next year, thanks to sales in non-US markets. IDC expects the market to grow by 6.9 percent, a total of 138.6 million units.

IDC said the malaise would continue into next year. Consumer PC shipments are set to fall a further 17.8 percent in 2002, while commercial PC shipments will show a small growth of 2.8 percent. Overall, IDC expects US PC shipments in 2002 to reach 40.4 million, 17 percent fewer than in 2000. Even in 2003, the overall number of PCs sold in the US will only just be greater than in 1999, IDC said.

IDC is a member of the IDG group of companies, as is PC Advisor.