ROCKVILLE, Md. - September U.S. machine tool consumption totaled $175.79 million, up 24.8 percent from August, but down 9.7 percent from the total of $194.63 million reported for September 2002, according to the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association and the Association For Manufacturing Technology.

With a year-to-date total of almost $1.4 billion, 2003 is down 16.1 percent compared to the same period in 2002.

These numbers and all data in this report are based on the totals of actual data reported by companies participating in the program.

"We are clearly seeing early signs of recovery in manufacturing," said AMTDA President Ralph J. Nappi. "Both broad and specific indicators suggest we are at the beginning of a long and painful climb from the bottom."

The United States Machine Tool Consumption Report is compiled by the two trade associations representing the production and distribution of manufacturing equipment. It provides regional and national U.S. data on domestic and imported machine-tool use. Experts view the report as a barometer of the nation's economic health, since industries typically invest in metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity when business is improving.

Regional consumption figures varied. September machine-tool consumption in the Northeast stood at $24.96 million, down 9.2 percent from August's $27.5 million and down 39.2 percent compared to the total for September 2002. With a year-to-date total of $188.26 million, 2003 was 22.3 percent below the total in 2002 at the same time.

In the South, consumption rose to $28.32 million, up 24.7 percent compared to August's $22.71 million and up 1.6 percent compared to September a year ago. At $300.05 million, the year-to-date total was 8.9 percent ahead of the comparable figure a year ago.

The Midwest totaled $77.05 million, 68 percent higher than August's $45.85 million, and 28.3 percent ahead of the total for last September. With a year-to-date total of $534.7 million, 2003 was off 16.2 percent when compared to the same period in 2002.

In the Central United States, September machine-tool consumption was up 13.5 percent at $28.64 million, from the $25.24 million tallied in August, but off 38.5 percent when compared to September 2002. The year-to-date total of $227.88 million was off 26.7 percent when compared to the same period in 2002.

In the West, consumption stood at $16.8 million, down 13.8 percent when compared to August's $19.5 million and down 11.9 percent when compared to September a year ago. At $138.83 million, year-to-date 2003 was off 26.4 percent from the comparable figure for 2002.