(Even) Lower PC Sales Plague Producers, Retailers (DELL, HPQ, AAPL, BBY)

Includes: AAPL, BBY, DELL, HPQ

Retail-sales tracker NPD Group has some unpleasant -- if not entirely unexpected -- news for PC makers Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), H-P (NYSE:HPQ) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and the electronics retailers that carry their products: This year's fall in PC sales growth will continue into next year. Excerpts from a WSJ article (sub. req.) on the topic today:

This year's estimated 6% increase in home-PC unit sales, down from a 10% gain last year, reflects increasing competition for consumer dollars from flat-panel televisions, experts say. TVs are pinching sales of midpriced PCs, and expected price cuts in the flat-panel offerings could make the PC business even tougher in 2006...

low-cost, flat-panel TVs are threatening what had been the sweet spot of the home-PC business -- midpriced, $800 to $1,000 PCs... To make up for lower profits as sale prices shrink, [Comp-USA] and other suppliers are beefing up notebook offerings and making after-sales service a key part of their marketing efforts.

Dell Inc. launched a line of pricey gaming notebook-and-desktop PCs that offer dedicated support lines. Best Buy Co. added 2,500 technicians to Geek Squad, its PC-service unit, during its last quarter, bringing the technician total to nearly 12,000.