Global mobile phone shipments during the fourth quarter of 2008 fell 10 per cent year over year, to reach 295 million units, marking the industry’s slowest growth rate since 2001.

According to the latest research from industry analyst Strategy Analytics, three of the big five mobile phone vendors recorded negative annual growth rates during the fourth quarter.

King of the hill Nokia saw its quarterly volumes decline to 113.1 million, from 133.5 million in the same period a year earlier, leaving it with a market share of 39.8 per cent. While second placed Samsung fared better, boosting its Q4 2008 unit shipments to 52.8 million, up from 46.3 million the previous year, securing it 16.7 per cent of the market. An attractive handset portfolio and wider distribution channels were among the drivers of its success, the analyst said.

Korean rival LG took third place with 8.6 per cent market share, after driving its Q4 2008 shipments up to 25.7 million from23.7 million a year earlier. But Motorola remained in big trouble with its fourth quarter shipments in 2008 dropping by half to 19 million, compared to the previous year. Moto now has 8.5 per cent market share and is being chased by Sony Ericsson with 8.2 per cent of the market. The Swedish-Japanese joint venture saw its fourth quarter shipments drop from 30.8 million in 2007 to 24.2 million in 2008.

Apple meanwhile, shipped a lower-than-expected 4.4 million iPhones worldwide in Q4 2008. Apple’s annual growth rate of 88 per cent was far below the 516 per cent it registered in the previous quarter. The analyst notes that Apple continues to grow at an above-average pace, but the firm is not immune to the wider recession affecting the global economy and mobile device industry.

Bonny Joy, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics said, “Global mobile phone shipments fell to 295 million units during Q4 2008, down a significant 10 per cent from 329 million units in Q4 2007. An economic downturn in developed and developing markets caused the industry’s slowest growth rate since Q4 2001. Retailers have been de-stocking due to credit tightness, while consumers delayed purchases because of fears of a recession.”

With volumes and revenues contracting sharply in 2009, Strategy Analytics expects that much of the mobile industry’s focus will inevitably be on controlling costs and restoring profitability.