In comments likely to bolster bearishness on the tech sector,

Novellus

(NVLS)

said after the bell Thursday that customer order patterns have become more cautious, marking a shift since the chip-equipment maker offered a

chipper outlook in July.

"In general, business is still good. But we've seen some rescheduling of shipments over the past 30 days. We've now seen push-outs into the fourth quarter of '04 and the first quarter of '05," said Chief Executive Officer Rick Hill on a post-close conference call. He said the weakness was largely driven by Asia-based customers.

As a result, Novellus now expects bookings will be about $420 million, at the low end of the previously guided range of between $420 million and $440 million. Shipments will be below guidance due to the order push-outs, at about $37 million.

Third-quarter revenue is expected to be about $412 million, slightly below the midpoint of the initial range of $408 million to $418 million. Earnings per share should total 37 cents, at the low end of earlier guidance for a range of 37 cents to 39 cents. The current consensus analyst estimate calls for earnings per share of 40 cents on revenue of $414 million for the quarter ending in September.

After the bell, however, shares gained 50 cents, or 2%, to $25.15. In regular trading, the stock lost 49 cents or 2% to $24.65.

The comments from Novellus come amid increasing concern that a slowdown in semiconductor demand will put pressure on orders for chip-making equipment.

Just yesterday another chip-equipment concern,

Credence Systems

(CMOS)

, which sells into the automated test equipment market, reported seeing order push-outs and more limited business visibility.

Credence closed Thursday down 47 cents, or 6.3%, to $7.