Index forecasts growth, but not at a faster pace

An index forecasting economic conditions in the United States continues to signal growth during the second half of the year, although not at a pace that’s expected to accelerate.

The Conference Board reported its Leading Economic Index rose two-tenths of a percent to 109.5 in May. Separate measures of current and past economic performance also increased.

“While May’s increase in the U.S. LEI was slower than in recent months, the improvements in a majority of its components offset the declines in leading indicators of labor markets and residential construction,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist with the Conference Board, a business research and membership association. “The U.S. LEI still points to solid growth. But the current trend, which is moderating, indicates that economic activity is not likely to accelerate.”

With gains in each of the last seven months, the Leading Economic Index has increased 3 percent over the past six months, about the same pace as the previous six-month span. Strengths among leading indicators have remained widespread.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2018 after a gain of 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.

For May, seven of 10 indicators of the Leading Economic Index advanced, including consumer expectations, interest rate spread, leading credit and new orders indexes, new orders for capital and consumer goods and stock prices. Average weekly manufacturing hours and building permits retreated. An increase in average weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits also pulled down the index.

The Coincident Economic Index, a measure of current conditions, rose two-tenths of a percent to 103.7. The index has increased 1 percent over the past six months.

For May, three of four indicators of the index advanced: nonfarm payrolls, personal income and sales. Industrial production retreated.

The Lagging Economic Index, a measure of past performance, rose a half of a percent to 105.2. The index has increased seven-tenths of a percent over the past three months.

For May, three of seven components of the index advanced, including commercial and industrial financing and consumer credit. A decrease in the average duration of unemployment also boosted the index. Inventories retreated. The average prime rate charged by banks and the cost of labor and services held steady.