Chip gear orders show signs of health

Makers of semiconductor equipment say orders are outpacing shipments, a sign that an upturn may be on the way next year.

Orders for chip equipment kept ahead of shipments in November with bookings worth $930 million, giving gear makers hope of an upturn next year.

The book-to-bill ratio, which represents a comparison between the average value of new equipment orders received and the average billing for finished products, rose to 1.04 in North America, according to data the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) released Friday.

The group uses a three-month average to calculate the monthly figures for shipments and orders. A book-to-bill ratio of 1.04 means that $104 in new orders were received for every $100 of product billed.

The monthly ratio has been climbing steadily since July, when SETI reported a book-to-bill comparison figure of 0.90.

"The continued growth of bookings in November supports the optimism within the industry for a robust upturn in 2004," Stanley Myers, CEO of SEMI, said in a statement. "The year-end SEMI Consensus Forecast shows the world's major equipment manufacturers are projecting growth in 2004 of 39 percent, following a modest 8 percent growth this year."

The three-month average of global bookings in November was $930 million, a rise of 7 percent over $871 million, the revised total for October. Billings totaled $893 million, 3 percent higher than in the previous month.