Business activity and financial strength of U.S. machine tool users grew in March, according to a monthly index compiled by Agie Charmilles Corp. Manufacturing activity and the U.S. industrial base grew in the month, while the U.S. trade deficit declined slightly, Harry Moser, president of Agie Charmilles, said in a report on his company’s monthly survey. Additionally, the report indicated that some work that previously was lost to Southeast Asia returned to the United States. The Charmilles Machining Business Activity Index relies on a monthly survey of machine tool users. The index derived from the survey measures business levels and compares them to three months earlier. Index levels above 50 indicate improved business activity. The index rose to 68 in March from 60 in February. The strongest activity for March was in the captive production sector, and in the Midwest region. An accompanying index, the Charmilles/US Bancorp Equipment Finance Machining Industry Financial Strength Index also grew in March to 303, compared with 277 in February. Readings above 100 for this index indicates that machine tool lease payment delinquencies are at a rate below the average rate of 1990 to 1999. This index is considered a measure of liquidity and consistent profitability. Approximately 126,000 U.S. companies use about 2 million machine tools and employ nearly 1 million workers. Almost all mid-size to large manufacturing companies use, and periodically purchase or lease, machine tools.