Semiconductor equipment manufacturers new orders, or bookings, fell to $1.8 billion in February from a revised $1.87 billion in January, an industry trade group said Thursday.

The preliminary figures, released monthly by

Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International

, are based on a three-month moving average of orders and shipments.

While new orders fell for the fifth month in a row, the number of shipments improved slightly to $2.35 billion from $2.33 billion in January. But the decline in orders far outpaced the rise in shipments, and the book-to-bill ratio, or the ratio of new orders compared to shipments, deteriorated to 0.77, meaning that orders in February were 23% lower than shipments. That's worse than in January, when the book-to-bill ratio was 0.80.

"While the month-over-month order decline slowed from the sharp drop in January, the semiconductor equipment industry continues to reflect softening demand within the electronics ecosystem. The equipment industry is well into its cyclic contraction as February orders are 40% below the peak of this cycle set in October 2000," Stanley Myers, president and chief executive officer of SEMI, said in a statement.

The book-to-bill ratio confirms what many

chip equipment makers have been saying for the past few weeks about their business. Earlier this week, for example,


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warned that its quarterly revenue would be lower because of tighter spending on behalf of its customers.