North American-based semiconductor-equipment manufacturers logged a reduced amount of orders for the fourth straight month in January, driving a key industry ratio of orders and shipments to its lowest level since November 2003, according to new data from an industry trade group on Thursday.

The equipment industry has cooled since mid-2004 when an inventory correction caused chipmakers to cool expansion plans. "Total bookings declined sharply in January and are now about 37% below the cyclic peak observed in June 2004," said Stanley Myers, chief executive of trade group Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International.

The world's largest semiconductor equipment maker,

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

, stated earlier this week that

orders for the January quarter dropped 36% from the previous period.

The book-to-bill ratio, which measures orders received against product shipped, was 0.80 to 1, based on preliminary data compiled as a three-month moving average. During December, the final ratio was 0.94 to 1; last January the ratio was 1.19 to 1.

Orders were $1 billion in January compared with $1.24 billion in December and $1.23 billion in January last year.

Equipment makers in North America shipped products valued at $1.27 billion for the month, below the $1.32 billion reported in December and above the $1 billion shipped in January 2004.