ROCKVILLE, Md. - December U.S. machine tool consumption totaled $221 million, according to the Association For Manufacturing Technology and AMTDA, the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association.

The total was up 15.4 percent from November, and up 10.8 percent from the $199 million reported for December 2002. Experts view the report as a barometer of the nation's economic health, since industries typically invest in equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity when business is improving.

With a $1.9 billion year-end total, 2003 is down 7.9 percent compared to 2002.

"Manufacturing technology orders finished strong in the fourth quarter last year," said John B. Byrd III, AMT president. "Our customers' capacity use and profits are growing, a combination that has historically signaled previous recoveries in capital spending."

U.S. machine tool consumption was also reported on a regional basis:

At $29.53 million, December machine tool consumption in the Northeast was up 33.1 percent from November's $22 million and 28.4 percent higher than the tally for December 2002. The $261 million year-end total was 16 percent lower than the comparable figure for 2002.

Machine tool consumption in the South rose to $32 million, 86.3 percent higher than November's $17 million, but down 14.1 percent compared to December a year ago. A $373 million year-end total meant 2003 was up 2 percent compared to 2002.

In the Midwest, the total was $91.75 million, up 21.9 percent from November's $75.28 million and 18.8 percent higher than the December 2002 total. At $797.8 million, the year-end 2003 figure was 4.3 percent lower than in 2002.

The Central region stood at $37.5 million, 36 percent lower than November's $58.5 million, but up 11.2 percent when compared to December 2002. The $357 million year-end figure was 12.8 percent less than the 2002 total.

With a December total of $29.82 million, Western region machine tool consumption was up 64.6 percent from November's $18 million and 7 percent higher than the total for December 2002. At $203.7 million, the year-end total was 16.6 percent less than last year.