Updated from 4:36 p.m.

Survival mode continued in the chip-equipment sector, as industry bellwether

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

tamped down any dreams of an early turnaround with its downtrodden first-quarter results Tuesday.

The company said its backlog -- one indicator of future business -- was almost a billion dollars less than a year ago. At the end of the first quarter, Applied said, backlog stood at $3.16 billion, down from last year's $4.05 billion.

New orders, meanwhile, were even worse, falling 73% to $649 million from the $2.4 billion Applied had inked during the same period a year ago.

Testifying to the toughness of the semiconductor business, the company's chairman and CEO, Mike Splinter, pretty much pointed to survival as the prime goal of the company. "In a period of exceptionally weak demand, Applied preserved its strong balance sheet, returned a dividend to our stockholders and made substantial investments in our future," Splinter said in a press release.

There have been hints that, at least sequentially, orders for the equipment used to make semiconductors had been improving. A trade group said recently that overall chip-equipment orders rose 8% in March compared with February. But Applied's results seemed to belie those optimistic signs. Orders for its fiscal second quarter, which ended April 26, were down substantially -- 28% -- from the first quarter's $903 million.

As for its income statement, Applied said it lost 10 cents a share in the quarter on an adjusted basis, even with analysts' estimates. Including items, the company lost 19 cents a share, or $255 million, whereas a year ago it made $303 million. Revenue plunged 53% to just over $1 billion from last year's $2.15 billion.

The results were expected, as the chip industry is suffering from what some have called its worst-ever bust. That's saying something, since the sector is known for nothing if not its severe business cycles.

Applied's peers in the semiconductor-equipment space have also reported declining backlogs and extreme revenue falloffs.

KLA Tencor's

(KLAC) - Get Report

latest-quarter top line fell nearly 49% and

Novellus's

(NVLS)

fell 69%.

Lam Research

(LRCX) - Get Report

saw the worst of it. Its revenue dropped 72% from a year ago.

In aftermarket trading Tuesday, Applied shares slipped a bit, changing hands at $11.04, down 8 cents from its close in the regular session.

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