Leading index signals growth in 2021

Ataman Ozyildirim

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

The Conference Board reported its Leading Economic Index (LEI) advanced two-tenths of a percent to 110.5 in February. A separate measure of current conditions decreased, while a measure of past performance increased.

“The acceleration of the vaccination campaign and a new round of large fiscal supports are not yet fully reflected in the LEI,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, the senior director of economic research at the Conference Board. “With those developments, the Conference Board now expects the pace of growth to improve even further this year, with the U.S. economy expanding by 5.5 percent in 2021.”

The Leading Economic Index rose 3.8 percent over the past six months, nearly reversing a 4.8 percent decline over the six months before that. Moreover, strengths among the indicators in the index remain widespread.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country, expanded at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 after jumping 33.4 percent in the third quarter.

For February, six of 10 indicators of the Leading Economic Index advanced, including interest rate spread, leading credit and new orders indexes, new orders for consumer goods and stock prices. A decrease in average weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits also bolstered the index. Average weekly manufacturing hours, building permits, consumer expectations and new orders for capital goods retreated.

The Coincident Economic Index, a measure of current conditions, slipped a tenth of a percent to 103. The index rose 1.2 percent over the past six months.

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

The Lagging Economic Index, a measure of past performance, increased two-tenths of a percent to 104.5. The index decreased 1.7 percent over the past three months.

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