Venture capital investments in the United States declined 16 percent in the final quarter of the year, according to preliminary totals from VentureWire.

Venture capitalists invested $3.6 billion in the December quarter, down from $4.3 billion in the same quarter of 2002. The number of financings declined to 330 from 405, a drop of 18.5 percent

For the year, U.S. venture investing totaled $15.3 billion, down from $20.6 billion in 2002, or 25.7 percent. The 2003 total is the lowest since 1998, when U.S. start-ups raised $13.5 billion in funding.

Despite the overall decline, investment in biotechnology and semiconductor companies in 2003 was up compared to the prior year. Biotech firms raised $2.9 billion in 2003, a slight increase from $2.8 billion in 2002. Semiconductor companies raised $1.6 billion in 2003, an increase of some $50 million over 2002.