By John S. McClenahen Gross new orders of machine tools for U.S. consumption were $220.88 million in December 2003, up 15.4% from November's $191.43 million, according to statistics released jointly by AMT -- The Association for Manufacturing Technology, McLean, Va., and the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association, Rockville, Md. "Manufacturing technology orders finished strong in the fourth quarter last year," observes John B. Byrd III, AMT's president. "Our customers' capacity use and profits are growing, a combination that has historically signaled . . . recoveries in capital spending." For all of 2003, orders for machine tool were $1.993 billion, 7.9% below the $2.164 billion recorded in 2002. Orders for metal cutting machine tools were $1.804 billion last year, 6.4% lower than 2002's $1.927 billion, and orders for metal forming machine tools were $188.9 million, 20.3% below 2002's $236.9 million.