By John S. McClenahen Gross new orders in the U.S. for machines that cut and form metal totaled $193.84 million in February. That figure is 24.9% higher than the $155.16 million posted in January of this year, but 14% below the $225.52 million recorded in February 2001, indicates a joint report from AMT -- The Association for Manufacturing Technology in McLean, Va. and the Rockville, Md.-based American Machine tool Distributors Association (AMTDA). For the first two months of 2002, U.S. machine tool consumption was $349 million, some 26.8% below the total for January and February last year. "Despite the positive economic indicators that have been reported the last two months, the manufacturing sector is likely to see a slower, more deliberate recovery than other sectors," says Ralph J. Nappi, AMTDA's president. "There is much manufacturing capacity to be used before any noteworthy investment will occur." Machine tool orders are generally a reliable leading indicator of U.S. economic activity.