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Orders for chip equipment slip

An important measurement of orders for chip-manufacturing equipment slipped in April, reflecting the continued economic uncertainty that is plaguing the industry.

An important measurement of orders for chipmaking equipment slipped in April, according to an industry group.

The book-to-bill ratio, which represents the average value of new equipment orders received versus the average billings for finished equipment, slipped to 0.86 last month in North America, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) said late Thursday. This means that just $86 worth of new orders arrived for every $100 that was billed.

April's ratio reflects continued economic uncertainty, the group said. Until chipmakers are convinced that a recovery in consumer and commercial spending is at hand, it's unlikely they will invest heavily in new equipment.

Chip-equipment orders booked for the month totaled $737 million, 5 percent less than the March revised bookings of $777 million, and 26 percent below the $996 million in orders received in April 2002, SEMI said.

The April book-to-bill ratio of 0.86 is lower than the revised 0.91 figure for March. SEMI's earlier figures had put the March book-to-bill ratio at 0.99, up slightly from February's 0.98. However, the revised figures actually show that the book-to-bill ratio has declined for two successive months--March and April--after creeping up between January and February.

"Despite hopeful indications in last month's figures, orders for new semiconductor manufacturing equipment remain at relatively low levels," Stanley Myers, SEMI's CEO, said in a statement.

Billings were $854 million during April, slightly lower than the revised figure of $857 million for March, and 5 percent higher than the April 2002 billings level of $815 million, SEMI said.

The group uses a three-month average to measure monthly figures for billings and orders booked.