SAN FRANCISCO — Sales of semiconductor manufacturing equipment continued their steep decline in February, falling on an annual basis for the fourth consecutive month, according to the SEMI trade association.

The semiconductor equipment industry is coming off back-to-back years of record sales, including $62.1 billion in 2018. However, after two years of benefiting from massive capital spending by chipmakers — especially memory companies — fab tool vendors are finding it impossible to keep pace with previous sales levels as semiconductor industry growth has sputtered.

The three-month moving average of billings from North American semiconductor equipment vendors declined to $1.86 billion in February, down about 23% from $2.41 billion in February 2018, SEMI said. After increasing each month for more than two years, billings have now declined on an annual basis by 5.3% in November, 12.3% in December, 20% in January and 23% in February, according to the trade group.

On a sequential basis, February billings were down by 1.7% compared with January's level of $1.9 billion, SEMI said.

SEMI Fab

Despite the declines in recent months, billings for 2019 to date among North American fab tool vendors remain above 2016 levels, said Terry Tsao, SEMI's chief marketing officer, in a press statement.

Meanwhile, SEMI's Japanese counterpart, the Semiconductor Equipment Association of Japan (SEAJ), reported that the three-month average of bookings for Japanese tool vendors declined to 150,651 yen (about $1.37 billion) in February, down 8.7% compared to January and down 11.6% compared to February 2018.