Seesawing leading index forecasts slow growth

An index forecasting economic performance in the United States has seesawed back up as it continues to signal slow growth ahead.

The Conference Board reported that its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose six-tenths of a percent to 95.9 in September. The index dipped four-tenths of a percent in August and rose four-tenths of a percent in July.

“The LEI has been signaling an economy that is fluctuating around a slow-growth trend,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist with the Conference Board, a business research and membership group. “The six-month growth rate has slowed substantially, but still remains in growth territory due to positive contributions from the housing and financial components.”

Ken Goldstein, another economist with the Conference Board, said weak demand, domestically and globally, remains a challenge. “The struggle to regain firmer ground — in financial markets, international trade and global industries output — continues because of weak consumer demand and a lack of more robust business investment.”

Based on revised information, the LEI has advanced three-tenths of a percent over the past six months, far slower than the 2.6 percent gain in the previous six months.

Gross domestic product, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the United States, expanded at annual rate of 1.3 percent during the second quarter after increasing 2 percent in the first quarter.

For September, six of the 10 indicators used in the LEI advanced: building permits, interest rate spread, a leading credit index, new orders for consumer and capital goods and stock prices.Three indicators retreated: consumer expectations for business conditions and a new orders index, along with an increase in average initial claims for unemployment insurance. Average weekly manufacturing hours held steady.

The Coincident Economic Index (CEI), a measure of current economic performance, rose two-tenths of a percent to 105.1 in September. The CEI has climbed 1.3 percent over the past six months. For September, all four indicators of the index advanced: industrial production, nonfarm payrolls, personal income and sales.

The Lagging Economic Index (LAG), a measure of past economic performance, edged up a tenth of a percent to 116.8 in September. The LAG has gained seven-tenths of a percent over the past three months.

For September, two of seven indicators of the index advanced and three retreated. Consumer credit and the cost of services rose. Commercial and industrial financing and labor costs fell even as the average duration of unemployment rose. Inventories and the average prime interest rate charged by banks held steady.