Leading index slips, but still forecasts growth

Ataman Ozyildirim

A monthly index forecasting economic conditions has slipped for the fourth time in five months, but still signals growth.

“Financial conditions and consumers’ outlook for the economy remain positive, which should support growth of about 2 percent through early 2020,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economic research at the Conference Board.

The business research and membership association reported its Leading Economic Index fell three-tenths of a percent to 111.2 in December.

A separate measure of current economic performance edged up. A measure of past performance retreated.

The Leading Economic Index fell four-tenths of a percent during the second half of 2019 after rising a half percent during the first half of the year.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter and 2 percent in the second quarter.

For December, five of 10 indicators of the Leading Economic Index advanced: consumer expectations, interest rate spread, a leading credit index, new orders for consumer goods and stock prices. Building permits declined, as did a new orders index and new orders for capital goods. An increase in average weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits also pulled down the index. Average weekly manufacturing hours held steady.

The Coincident Economic Index, a measure of current performance, edged up a tenth of a percent to 107.2. The index has increased eight-tenths of a percent over the past six months.

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

The Lagging Economic Index, a measure of past performance, edged down a tenth of a percent to 108.8. The index has increased a half point over the past three months.

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