ROCKVILLE, MD-U.S. machine tool consumption totaled just over $3 billion in 2005, up 8.4 percent from 2004.

"December orders for machine tools increased an impressive 31 percent over November, bringing total year-over-year growth of 8.4 percent for the nation," says John B. Byrd, president of the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association (AMTDA), which compiled the numbers in cooperation with the Association for Manufacturing Technology (McLean, VA).

"Regionally, the health of the Central region's construction and agricultural equipment industries have had a positive effect on machine tool orders while the struggling automotive industry has had the opposite effect in the Midwest," Byrd says.

Breaking down machine tool consumption by region, in 2005, sales were up 2.1 percent in the Northeast; up 14.7 percent in the South; down 3.7 percent in the Midwest; up 27.6 percent in the Central United States, which includes Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas; and up 16.4 percent in the West.

Although machine tool consumption was down in the Midwest, the region still led the country with nearly $1 billion in sales, compared to $497 million in the South and $674 million in the Central regions.

According to the report's authors, an analysis of machine tool consumption provides a reliable leading economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.