The chief executive of

Agilent Technlogies

(A) - Get Report

called a bottom to the collapsing market for his company's industrial electronics tools. And then he didn't.

In its after-market earnings release, Agilent, a maker of sophisticated measurement devices for industry, said there were "tentative signs" that the downturn in its business had finally ended. "If these early signals of a bottoming in global electronics markets continue," CEO Bill Sullivan continued, "we could anticipate a bottoming in our electronic measurement business in the next few months."

As vague as that language was probably meant to be, the numbers from Agilent's fiscal second quarter weren't: Revenue down 25%, orders down 33%, and a bottom line -- excluding restructuring charges -- down 74%.

Still, the severity of the retraction was, for the most part, expected. The company reported second-quarter earnings of 13 cents a share before charges, which met analysts' expectations. Revenue came in at $1.09 billion; analysts were looking for $1.07 billion.

Agilent's electronic-measurement business was its worst performing unit. New orders there were worth $523 million in the quarter, 39% below the amount booked in the same period a year ago. Electronic measurement revenue plunged by a third, while the segment's bottom line was in the red, losing $6 million. "Market weakness was pervasive," the company said, succinctly.

In giving his outlook for the rest of the year, Sullivan said he expects Agilent's full-year revenue to be down "roughly" 25% compared with 2008. He added that, before the end of the year, the company's bio-analytical business might see a boost in business caused by the government's stimulus package. He didn't elaborate.

Agilent shares dropped slightly in after-hours trading Thursday, changing hands recently at $17.75, down 58 cents from their close in the regular session, when they climbed 28 cents.

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