The global PC market returned to its familiar downward slop in the fourth quarter, according to preliminary numbers from market analysts.

PC makers shipped 68.6 million personal computers in the final quarter of 2018, a decline of 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, market researcher Gartner reported Thursday.

Market researcher IDC reported similar results, tallying 68.1 million PC shipments for the quarter, a 3.7 percent decline.

The market was largely flat the previous two quarters, leading to mild optimism that the market could be stabilizing after six years of uninterrupted declines.

"Just when demand in the PC market started seeing positive results, a shortage of CPUs (central processing units) created supply chain issues," Mikako Kitagawa, senior principal analyst at Gartner, said in a statement.

"The impact from the CPU shortage affected vendors' ability to fulfill demand created by business PC upgrades."

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