The U.S. semiconductor business is posting healthy gains. Since January, the chipmakers have been booking new orders at a rate almost 20% higher than they are shipping products. March bookings climbed 5.4% from February, to $2.19 billion--an impressive 46% jump from March, 1992. Demand for chips is being driven mainly by strong U.S. sales of computer gear, which increased 17% in the first quarter from a year ago, to $14.85 billion, according to the Electronics Industries Assn.

All this is welcome news for U.S. suppliers of chipmaking equipment, who are recapturing market share lost to Japanese rivals, says market researcher Dataquest Inc. Last year, U.S. semiconductor equipment suppliers accounted for 29.7% of the world's $5.1 billion market, or nearly five points more than in 1991. And Dataquest predicts that U.S. chip-equipment sales will top 33% of the market this year and hit 34% next year.

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