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Chip equipment makers see modest gains

North American semiconductor equipment makers post an improvement in orders. However, the ratio that gauges the health of the industry still remains weak.

North American semiconductor equipment makers posted an improvement in orders in March. However, the ratio that gauges the health of the industry still remains weak, a study shows.

According to a report released Thursday by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI), the industry generated $823 million in orders during March, based on a three-month average, up from $760.6 million the previous month.

But the book-to-bill ratio, which measures orders versus shipments on a monthly basis, was 0.99-to-1 in March, indicating that $99 worth of new orders came in for every $100 worth of products billed in the month. A healthy industry would have a ratio of 1-to-1 or higher, demonstrating a strong pipeline of orders coming in.

Nonetheless, despite the lackluster economy and weak spending on information technology, semiconductor equipment makers have posted some improvements in recent months.

"Orders for final manufacturing equipment have increased for three consecutive months, and the book-to-bill ratio for the segment has been above parity for two straight months," Stanley Myers, SEMI's chief executive, said in a statement.

While March saw a book-to-bill figure of 0.99, February was 0.98-to-1 and January 0.94-to-1, according to SEMI.