Fourth-quarter earnings more than tripled from a year earlier at Novellus ( NVLS) on solidly higher revenue, and the chip-equipment maker reiterated that the worst of a choppy demand picture appears to be over among semiconductor companies. Novellus earned $37.5 million, or 27 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $10.5 million, or 7 cents a share, last year. Revenue rose 50% from a year ago to $340.3 million. Excluding restructuring and other charges, Novellus earned $39.2 million, or 28 cents a share, in the 2004 quarter, 4 cents better than Wall Street had forecast. Analysts had predicted revenue of $326 million in the most recent quarter. Novellus said fourth-quarter shipments slipped 12% from their third-quarter levels to $335.1 million, while deferred revenue suffered a 4.5% sequential decline to $140.8 million. "Fourth-quarter bookings came in slightly better than the $325 million to $330 million that we communicated in our last mid-quarter update," Novellus said. "Still, we continue to contend with a choppy bookings environment, a trend that began back in September. While we believe the worst is behind us, many of our customers are dealing with declining utilization rates." Shares rose 52 cents, or 2%, to $27.20 after hours.