International Data Corp (IDC) has released its worldwide PC-sales figures for the fourth quarter 2001, revealing that PC shipments declined 6.7 per cent from a year ago.

However, the figures reveal sales showed signs of improvement in both the US and Europe. This could be good news for Apple, especially in light of the recent iMac launch, industry observers claim. "We don't expect a rapid turnaround, but the seeds of recovery are being sown," Loren Loverde, director of IDC's worldwide quarterly PC tracker, said.

Dell took the lead from Compaq in worldwide unit sales, and was the only major PC vendor to gain market share over the three-month period, according to IDC. It's share grew to 14.2 per cent, up from 11.7 per cent a year earlier, while Compaq's share dropped to 11.2 per cent, from 12.9 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2000.

Share value Hewlett-Packard's share of the market stayed flat at 8 per cent, putting it in third place, while IBM and Fujitsu Siemens rounded out the top five. IBM's worldwide-market share dropped to 6.2 per cent from 7.4 per cent, while Fujitsu Siemens remained flat at 4.9 per cent.

In the US, direct sales giant Dell was again the only top-five PC vendor to gain share, and retained its pole position with 27.5 per cent of the market, up from 22.2 per cent a year ago, IDC said. Dell successfully fended off Compaq and HP, which held on to second and third place respectively.

By geography, the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, held the distinction of being the only region to see shipments grow over the period. Japan continued to suffer from economic problems, and IDC projected double-digit declines in shipments there for the next few quarters.

Sales in Europe also remained soft, especially in the corporate segment, though sales to small businesses and consumers were somewhat healthier. In the US, shipments dropped 10.1 per cent year-on-year, but still managed to beat expectations because of an unexpected surge of consumer buying.

Apple sales figures were not available at press time.