MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Pessimistic news about the Asian semiconductor manufacturing market did not sway members of Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International from forecasting growth in their business in 1998. The Capital Equipment Consensus Forecast, released in November, predicts that members' 1997 commercial shipments will total $28.3 billion, an increase of 7.7 percent over their 1996 figures. The trade association's optimistic figures appear to indicate that the decline of the South Korean market for semiconductor equipment, a significant buyer in recent years, will serve only to boost needs in other parts of the world. In specific product areas, the forecast estimates: An 8.5 percent increase in test equipment, to $5.2 billion in sales. A 5.3 percent increase in wafer processing equipment shipments, to $19.5 billion in sales. A 26.3 percent increase in assembly and packaging equipment, to $1.8 billion in sales. The rise is particularly welcome, coming off a 20 percent decline in 1996. A 14.8 percent increase in other front-end systems, including mask and reticle, wafer manufacturing and factory automation equipment. Total sales in 1997 are expected to be about $1.9 billion. The forecast further predicts an 11.6 percent increase in the total equipment market in 1998, to a worldwide total of $31.6 billion. More gains are expected in the next two years, with the market reaching a total of $45.5 billion in 2000. The group's forecast is the result of a November 1997 workshop that included 99 member companies from the US, Japan and Europe. Those companies, the group said, account for about 90 percent of the total sales volume for the global semiconductor equipment industry.