April 19 (Bloomberg) -- The index of U.S. leading indicators rose for a sixth month in March, indicating the world’s largest economy will maintain its expansion.
The Conference Board’s gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months climbed 0.3 percent after a 0.7 percent gain in February that was the biggest in 11 months, the New York-based group said today. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a rise of 0.2 percent in March.
An improving job market is helping Americans overcome higher fuel expenses and boosting the spending that accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Strengthening consumer demand will help sustain the more than two-year expansion and make the economy more resilient to a slowdown in Europe.
“The momentum is holding up,” Carl Riccadonna, a senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York, said before the report. “Job creation and income growth are positives for economic growth.”
Estimates of 51 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a decline of 0.2 percent to a gain of 0.5 percent.
Seven of the 10 indicators in the leading index contributed to the increase, led by interest rate spreads, building permits and stock prices.
The Conference Board’s index of coincident indicators, a gauge of current economic activity, climbed 0.2 percent for a second month.
The coincident index tracks payrolls, incomes, sales and production -- the measures used by the National Bureau of Economic Research to determine the beginning and end of U.S. recessions.
The gauge of lagging indicators increased 0.3 percent after a 0.1 percent gain.
More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign the improvement in labor-market conditions may be cooling.
Jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 386,000 in the week ended April 14 from a revised 388,000 the prior period that was higher than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a drop to 370,000.
Even so, consumers are growing more upbeat. Household confidence improved last week to match the highest level in four years as more Americans said their finances were in better shape.
The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was minus 31.4 in the period ended April 15, compared with minus 32.8 over the previous seven days. The reading equaled that from two weeks earlier as the best since March 2008. At the same time, the monthly expectations measure fell from a one-year high, showing concern remains that too many Americans are still unemployed.
Companies such as Greenbrier Companies Inc., which makes railcars and provides services for the industry, are benefiting from the expansion. Revenue from manufacturing in the second quarter rose to $320.2 million, the strongest period in the Lake Oswego, Oregon-based company’s history. It delivered 3,700 new railcars, up from 3,300 in the first quarter.
“We continue to see strong demand for our hopper cars and tank cars tied to the U.S. energy sector, as well as new orders for additional car types not previously in backlog,” Mark Rittenbaum, chief financial officer at Greenbrier, said on an April 9 conference call. “We have steadily ramped up production rates at our eight operational lines and we’re firing on more cylinders.”
Payroll Growth Cools
Employers added 120,000 jobs in March, half as many as in February and the fewest in five months, according to payrolls figures released on April 6. The jobless rate fell to 8.2 percent, a three-year low. Even so, the economy has added 635,000 jobs since December.
Federal Reserve policy makers plan to meet April 24-25 to debate policy for an economy described as growing at a “modest to moderate” pace in the central bank’s Beige Book survey released this month. They have pledged to keep the benchmark interest rate near zero until late 2014 to stimulate the expansion.
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