The Next Big Market for PCs?

Maybe Lihua International (Nasdaq: LIWA  ) isn't the best Chinese stock opportunity for us Americans. Maybe Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) is.

According to the Asia edition of The Wall Street Journal, Chinese citizens are taking advantage of a massive $586 billion government stimulus program to buy PCs. Increasingly, they're buying American.

New research from IDC shows that hometown hero Lenovo, proud owner of what used to be IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) PC business, controlled just 28% of the market through the first half of 2009, the Journal reports. That's up just 1% from 2005's total.

HP, meanwhile, controlled 14% of the market, while Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , like Lenovo, earned a one-point gain to command 8% of the market. China's Founder Electronics was the loser on IDC's list, shedding two percentage points to tie Dell at 8%.

HP's success in China is notable because of the overall struggles in the Personal Systems Group, which suffered an 18% sales decline last quarter. But China wasn't to blame for the shortfall. If anything, without China, the results would have been even worse.

"Despite the overall regional declines, revenue increased in China for the third quarter of fiscal 2009 as compared to the prior year period," reads a footnote on page 76 of H-P's most recent 10-Q quarterly report.

Key to the gains is presence. HP has some 7,000 stores and 10,000 resale partners in China, the Journal reports. The company is also a well-known advertiser and sponsor of local events.

And HP isn't the only American firm gaining traction in the Sino superpower. Dell has a smartphone deal with China Mobile (NYSE: CHL  ) , and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) will resell the iPhone through China Unicom (NYSE: CHU  ) .

But that's in the cities. Among rural Chinese, Lenovo is still the PC brand of choice for locals. China's Ministry of Commerce says that H-P is responsible for just 1% of subsidized sales to rural residents, versus 40% for Lenovo.

Sound daunting? In some ways, it is. My Foolish colleague Sean Sun correctly points out that China is a highly diverse market. Local expertise will likely be crucial in the war for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China's new rural PC shoppers. No computer maker has more than local expertise than Lenovo.

But even a 1% gain among rural locals would be a double for HP right now. The PC maker has already established itself in the metropolises. Going country shouldn't be too difficult.

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Apple is a Stock Advisor selection. Dell is an Inside Value pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Dell at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy cautions thinks the East German judge blew that last call. Booooooooooo!


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