North American semiconductor-equipment manufacturers logged a reduced amount of orders for the third straight month in December, which confirmed a weak end to 2004, according to new data from an industry trade group.

Also, a key industry ratio remained below parity for the fourth straight month, indicating fewer orders placed than product shipped, a negative indicator for future demand.

"The cyclic bookings peak occurred in June 2004 and total bookings in December are 23% below that level," said Stanley Myers, chief executive of trade group Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International.

The book-to-bill ratio, which measures orders received against product shipped, was 0.95-to-1, based on preliminary data compiled as a three-month moving average. During November, the ratio was 0.99-to-1; last December, the ratio was 1.23-to-1.

Orders were $1.24 billion in December compared with $1.33 billion in November and $1.18 billion in December 2003.

Equipment makers in North America shipped products valued at $1.3 billion for the month, below the $1.34 billion reported for November and above the $962.9 million shipped in December 2003.