Leading index increases, but signals slowing ahead

Ataman Ozyildirim

A monthly index forecasting economic conditions in the United States continues to increase, but at a pace that signals slowing.

The Conference Board reported its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose seven-tenths of a percent to 107.2 in September. The gain was the fifth in as many months.

Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economic research at the Conference Board, said the economy is projected to expand in the fourth quarter, but at annual rate of 1.5 percent. “Furthermore, downside risks to the recovery may be increasing amid rising new cases of COVID-19 and continued labor market weakness.”

The LEI increased 3.6 percent in the past six months, reversing a 7.3 percent decline over the six months before that. Strengths among leading indicators have been more widespread than weaknesses.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country, contracted at an annual rate of 31.4 percent in the second quarter after falling 5 percent in the first quarter.

For September, five of 10 indicators of the LEI advanced, including building permits, interest rate spread and leading credit and new orders indexes. A decrease in average weekly claims for unemployment insurance also bolstered the index. New orders for capital goods and stock prices retreated. Average weekly manufacturing hours, consumer expectations for business conditions and new orders for consumer goods held steady.

The Coincident Economic Index, a measure of current conditions, rose two-tenth of a percent to 101.7. The index increased 3.5 percent over the previous six months.

For September, three of four indicators advanced: nonfarm incomes, personal income and sales. Industrial production declined.

The Lagging Economic Index, a measure of past performance, slipped a tenth of a percent to 107.6. The index decreased 1.2 percent over the past three months.

For September, two of seven indicators advanced: the cost of services and inventories. Commercial and industrial financing, consumer credit and the cost of labor declined. An increase in the average duration of unemployment also pulled down the index. The average prime rate charged by banks remained unchanged.