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U.S. machine tool shipments, a barometer of business activity, fell 18.8 percent to $249.1 million in April, but were up 58.3 percent from year-ago levels, the National Machine Tool Builders' Association said Sunday.

Shipments were $306.65 million in March, the trade group said in its monthly statistical report.

Total machine tool orders fell 16.7 percent to $241.85 million in April, versus $290.5 million in March. Orders were down 4.4 percent from April 1988 levels.

Total orders of metal-forming tools jumped 28.4 percent last month to $89.75 million, versus March's $69.9 million total. Orders totaled $57.50 million last year, making the year-on-year gain 55.5 percent.

The backlog of orders in April was $2.30 billion, down for the second month in a row. The March backlog was $2.31 billion, the tool association said.

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