Releasing its third-quarter results today, chipequipment maker

Novellus

(NVLS)

said itnotched sales of $231 million, about even with analystexpectations but down 24% from the $303 million itearned in the same quarter last year.

Sales were up 3.8% from the second quarter.

In after-hours trading, the stock surrendered$2.62, or 10%, to $23.51. Earlier Tuesday -- on a daythat saw many tech stocks rocket upwards -- shares ofNovellus had tacked on $2.68, or 11.4%, to close at$26.13.

For its third quarter, the company reported a GAAPprofit of $4.1 million, or 3 cents per share. Proforma profit was 11 cents per share, 2 cents aboveWall Street's estimate for earnings of 9 cents.

The company took a special charge of $17 millionrelated to the issuance cost for the retirement ofoption notes and the recognition of an income taxbenefit.

Novellus said shipments reached $251 million inthe quarter, up about 4% sequentially.

Like many other chip-equipment companies that havelately struggled amid deteriorating demand, Novellusis considered likely to have to resort to layoffs.Banc of America's Mark FitzGerald estimated earlierthis week that the company's revenue has plummeted52% from the peak quarter to the current quarter,while operating expenses have fallen only 30%.

Though he expects semi-equipment fundamentals tobottom in the final quarter of 2002, recovery islikely to be slow. FitzGerald predicts flat to 7% growth in 2003.

But within that harsh environment, Novellus isbetter positioned than some of its rivals, since itclaims positive free cash flow.

In a prepared statement, CEO Richard Hill toutedthe company's cash-generating ability when it postedits results today, though he acknowledged that "theweak macroeconomic conditions and anemic demand havehad a negative impact on our business in the secondhalf of the year."