Lenovo Group's lead in Asia's personal computer market nearly vanished in the first quarter, with main rival Hewlett-Packard closing the gap amid a challenging economy and the mainland company's seasonal Lunar New Year slowdown. Preliminary data from research firm International Data Corp (IDC) estimated Lenovo had secured a 16.9 per cent first-quarter market share in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, on shipments of about 2.8 million units, against 16.1 per cent a year earlier. The world's fourth-largest personal computer supplier saw its regional market share in the first quarter fall from 19.6 per cent in the quarter to December. Still, that was enough for Lenovo to cling to its No1 position in the region. 'The data shows that Lenovo has been losing market share even as it continues to depend on China for growth during these tough times,' said analyst Joseph Ho of Daiwa Institute of Research. Lenovo's senior management had earlier vowed to sharpen the company's focus on the mainland, after suffering losses in the international markets. 'HP was one of the few vendors to post a year-on-year gain [in the first quarter] amid difficult economic conditions,' said Bryan Ma, a director of Asia-Pacific personal systems research at IDC. The world's leading personal computer supplier, HP saw its Asian market share grow to 16.1 per cent in the first quarter on shipments of about 2.6 million units, from 13.5 per cent in the previous quarter. HP, which also is the second-largest computer vendor in China after Lenovo, had a 14.4 per cent regional market share in the first quarter a year earlier. The last time HP trumped Lenovo to take the top spot in Asia was in the first quarter of 2005, when Lenovo was yet to complete its acquisition of International Business Machines Corp's personal computer business. Mr Ho said Lenovo's recent reorganisation, which created an emerging markets business division, would enable it to focus on further building brand equity and establishing strong distribution channels. 'Its prospects for growth during the rest of year will depend on steady growth in demand for low-priced laptop computers and netbooks designed for consumers, and the various infrastructure development projects and major marketing push into the rural areas supported by the government's economic stimulus programme,' he said. IDC estimated that personal computer shipments in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, declined 5 per cent year on year to 16.4 million units but came in close to forecasts, thanks to growing consumer laptop computer sales on the mainland as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan. 'Even though the quarter was soft, it was somewhat relieving to see that the region's market was able to hold up to forecasts this quarter, especially compared with a dismal fourth quarter last year,' Mr Ma said. IDC estimated that personal computer shipments in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, slowed to 17.2 million units in the fourth quarter of last year, declining about 14 per cent from the previous quarter and 5.3 per cent year on year. Mr Ma said demand from enterprises was likely to remain questionable this year, although strong sales of notebook computers could help offset that. 'The economy is still showing mixed signals and recent political instability in markets such as Thailand has created further uncertainty,' the IDC executive said.