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Orders for machine tools fell 24.1 percent in November due to the sagging economy and volatile Middle East situation, but orders were still higher than a year ago, a trade group said Sunday.

"Continued export opportunities, particularly now that the dollar is at a more realistic level and the need for investment by American manufacturers mean business for machine tool builders," said Albert Moore, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

November orders fell to $203.4 million from October's $268.10 million, the association said. But they were 10.3 percent higher than the $184.40 million in orders in November of 1989.

Machine tools, including computer-assisted lathes, machining centers and milling machines, are used to produce a wide range of articles from household goods to heavy machinery and sophisticated weaponry.

The orders are watched by economists as an indication of the future health of manufacturing.

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