ROCKVILLE, Md. - October U.S. machine-tool consumption totaled $157.6 million, according to the Association for Manufacturing Technology and AMTDA, the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association.

This total, as reported by companies participating in the U.S. Machine Tool Consumption program, was down 26.6 percent from September, and down 8.7 percent from the total of $172.5 million reported for October 2002.

With $1.58 billion year-to-date, 2003 is down 13.4 percent compared to the same period in 2002.

"Manufacturing output is improving and the impact on machine-tool orders is positive but uneven," said AMT President John B. Byrd III. "In the western region, monthly order rates outperformed 2002 levels for the past four months while the northeast and southern regions have had irregular gains but the signs are there that the five-year slide is coming to an end."

The report, jointly compiled by the two trade associations, provides regional and national U.S. consumption data of domestic and imported machine tools and related equipment. 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.

Most U.S. regions also reported a decline in consumption. In the Northeast, October machine-tool consumption was $20.2 million, down 22.2 percent from September's $26 million, and down 27.1 percent when compared to last October. The year-to-date total of $209 million was down 22.6 percent from the comparable figure for 2002.

In the South, consumption was $23.5 million, 23.2 percent below September's $30.6 million and 5.2 percent less than the total for October 2002. At $325 million, the year-to-date total was 8.2 percent ahead of the same period in 2002.

The Midwest saw a large decline, with consumption at $64.7 million, off 39.7 percent from September's $107.4 million, and 5.6 percent less than the total for last October. Year-to-date 2003 consumption reached $629 million, off 11 percent when compared to 2002 at the same time.

In the Central U.S., the figure was $29.6 million in October, 11 percent less than the $33.3 million tallied in September, and off 25.5 percent from October a year ago. The year-to-date total of $263 million was 25 percent less than the comparable figure a year ago.

The West was a bright spot, with consumption up 12.5 percent at $19.5 million, compared to September's $17.3 million. The figures were also up 66.5 percent when compared to October a year ago. However, the year-to- date total of $157.3 million was off 21.5 percent compared to 2002 at the same time.