Leading index forecasts growth

Ataman Ozyildirim

A monthly index forecasting economic conditions in the United States continues to increase, signaling gradual growth in the year ahead.

The Conference Board reported its Leading Economic Index rose a half percent to 110.3 in January. A separate measure of current conditions also increased, while a measure of past performance decreased.

Ataman Ozyildirim, the senior director of economic research at the Conference Board, said the index forecasts growth in the first half of 2021 as well as beyond. “As the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 accelerates, labor markets and overall growth are likely to continue improving through the rest of this year as well.”

Ozyildirim said the Conference Board forecasts 4.4 percent growth in the economy in 2021 after a 3.5 percent contraction in 2020.

The Leading Economic Index rose 5.1 percent over the past six months, nearly reversing a 6.3 percent decline over the six months before that. Strengths among the indicators in the index were widespread.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country, expanded at an annual rate of 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 after jumping 33.4 percent in the third quarter.

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

The Coincident Economic Index, a measure of current conditions, increased two-tenths of a percent to 103.3. The index rose 2.5 percent over the past six months.

For January, all four indicators of the index advanced: industrial production, nonfarm payrolls, personal income and sales.

The Lagging Economic Index, a measure of past performance, decreased six-tenth of a percent to 106.2. The index edged down a tenth of a percent over the past three months.

For January, two of seven components of the index advanced in consumer credit and the cost of labor. An increase in the average duration of unemployment pulled down the index. So did commercial and industrial financing and cost of services. The average prime rate charged by banks and inventories held steady.