The Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International book-to-bill ratio, which gauges demand for chip-equipment tools made in the U.S., rose to 0.67 in July, its third monthly increase.
July's ratio was higher than the revised 0.56 ratio in June because shipments continued to fall while orders have started to pick up.
"This was a bit of a surprise because we had expected orders to be down sequentially," Merrill Lynch analyst Brett Hodess said. "July is historically a weak month for semiconductor equipment, so this may be indicative that we have bottomed out and that orders will stabilize."
Average monthly orders, or bookings, rose 5% in July to $764.2 million from a revised $727.5 million in June. New orders were 74% below the $2.9 billion posted in July 2000.
Sales last month fell 12% to $1.14 billion from a revised $1.29 billion in June. They were 52% below year-earlier shipments of $2.4 billion.