Leading index slips, but still forecasts growth

An index forecasting economic conditions in the United States has slipped after three straight months of gains, but continues to signal slow growth in the months ahead.

A separate measure of current economic performance also edged down, while a measure of past performance increased.

The Conference Board reported that its Leading Economic Index (LEI) dipped a tenth of  a percent to 94.7 in March. Over the past six months, the LEI has advanced 1.6 percent with more widespread strength among its 10 indicators.

“The leading indicator still points to a continuing, but slow-growth environment,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist with the Conference Board.

Ken Goldstein, another economist with the business research and membership group, said the latest information reflects an economy that’s “lost some steam.”

“In addition to headwinds from government spending cuts, the private sector economy may struggle to maintain its momentum,” Goldstein said.

“The biggest challenge remains weak demand due to nervous consumer sentiment and slow income growth.”

For March, the LEI was evenly split between advancing and retreating indicators. The advancing indicators were interest rate spread, a leading credit index, new orders for consumer and capital goods and stock prices. The retreating indicators were building permits, consumer expectations, a new orders index and manufacturing hours. In addition, average weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits were up.

The Coincident Economic Index (CEI), a measure of current performance, slipped a tenth of a percent to 105.2 in March. The CEI has increased 1 percent over the past six months.

For March, three of four indicators of the CEI advanced: industrial production, nonfarm payrolls and sales. Personal income declined.

The Lagging Economic Indicator (LAG), a measure of past performance, rose three-tenths of a percent to 118.6 in March.

For March, three indicators of the LAG advanced and three retreated.

Advancing indicators were consumer financing, inventory levels and labor costs. Retreating indicators were commercial and industrial financing and the cost of services. Moreover, the average duration of unemployment increased. The average prime interest rate charged by banks remained unchanged.