SANTA ROSA -- Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) got a Chinese New Year surprise. The company's Electronic Measurements Group, headquartered in Santa Rosa, saw a fall-off in first-quarter orders in its communication business as demand weakened from Chinese cellular base station and wireless phone component manufacturers, two product lines it considers among its strongest.

Revenues for the group's fiscal first quarter of 2012 were up slightly to $778 million from $771 million a year before, or 1 percent growth. But first-quarter orders, soaring in 2011 by 20 percent to $797 million, were down 5 percent this year to $757 million.

Companywide, orders in the first quarter were $1.62 billion, unchanged over the year. Quarterly revenue was $1.64 billion, up 8 percent a year before.

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According to EMG president Guy Sene, demand for communications equipment was down globally, but particularly in China.

"Manufacturers there had invested quite heavily in infrastructure over the past few years," he said. "We knew it would slow down at sometime, but it slowed more quickly than we anticipated."

The Chinese New Year, which falls in the first quarter every four years, may have disrupted some business, according to Agilent CEO Bill Sullivan.

EMG's growth for the year is not expected to exceed 2 percent, in part because of the relatively robust numbers that preceeded it.

"Overall, the group in Santa Rosa did better than expected financially, with strong cash reserves and good margins," said Mr. Sene. "It was a good start to the fiscal year in a challenging economy."