Gateway's share value dropped on Wednesday, after its admission that consumer-PC sales have been lower than expected in the quarter. CNet reports analysts' fears that things could become equally bad for Apple and Compaq.

These fears are strongly reflected in company share values. Apple shares fell to $16.5, a loss of $1.0625. Compaq lost $1.2 to close at $21.5 and Gateway lost a massive $10.5 to close at $19.

The report claims the companies could face a potential crisis, caused by slow sales, increasing inventories and a "looming first quarter price war". CNet believes Apple and Compaq could be especially affected by these factors.

The price war has already begun, as Apple delivers substantial rebates to purchasers of G4 Cubes, MP Power Mac G4s and PowerBooks. The report claims Apple currently holds 11 weeks of inventory.

PC Data says consumer PC sales plummeted nearly 25 per cent in the US in the week before Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the biggest shopping period of the year. Sales here were down 30 per cent compared with the same time last year.

Analysts are concerned that all consumer PC companies, particularly Apple, may be "exposed", the report claims.