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February saw the biggest fall ever in smartphone sales, says analyst firm

Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Z Flip smartphones are displayed during the Samsung Unpacked product launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Global smartphone shipments dropped 38% year-over-year during February from 99.2 million devices to 61.8 million, the largest fall ever in the history of the smartphone market, according to a new report from Strategy Analytics

The new data point shows how the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has disrupted daily life and the electronics supply chain in China, is affecting the electronics market. Shipments to distributors plunged in China and and slumped across Asia as work shut down and people stayed at home, according to the report.

“We started to track smartphone market back to 2003. This is the biggest ever fall historically,” Linda Sui, analyst at Strategy Analytics said in an email. 

The statistic also foreshadows forthcoming trouble in the smartphone market as other regions have now shut down their economies to slow the virus. 

The outbreak hurt both supply and demand, according to Strategy Analytics. Factories in Asia were unable to manufacture phones as normal, because of mandatory government shutdowns and issues securing key components from the supply chain. 

On the other hand, people who are self-isolating or under an order to stay at home are unlikely to go to retail stores or shop for new devices, hurting demand for new devices. The fall was across all price bands, not just expensive or mass market models, Sui said. 

Apple, the world’s top smartphone vendor by volume according to IDC, has closed its stores outside of China indefinitely and warned in February that the coronavirus outbreak would temporarily constrain iPhone supply. Samsung, the no. 2 smartphone maker by volume, has also closed its stores.

While the rest of the world is grappling with the effects of the outbreak, China is slowly getting back to work. All of Apple’s stores in the country have reopened, for example.

“Despite tentative signs of recovery in China, we expect global smartphone shipments overall to remain weak throughout March, 2020,” Yiwen Wu, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics said in a statement. 

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