Leading Indicators in U.S. Climbed Less Than Forecast in March

  • Six of 10 components rise, led by stocks, interest-rate spread
  • Decrease in building permits prevented bigger advance

The index of U.S. leading economic indicators increased less than forecast in March, restrained by a drop in building permits.

The Conference Board’s measure of the economic outlook for the next three to six months rose 0.2 percent in March after falling 0.1 percent the prior month, the New York-based group said Thursday.

The gauge “points to slow, although not slowing, growth in the coming quarters,” Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business cycles and growth research at the Conference Board, said in a statement. “Rebounding stock prices were offset by a decline in housing permits, but nonetheless there were widespread gains among the leading indicators. Financial conditions, as well as expected improvements in manufacturing, should support a modest growth environment in 2016.”

The median forecast of 37 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected a 0.4 percent gain in the index. Estimates ranged from increases of 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent. The February reading was revised down from a previously reported 0.1 percent advance.

Six of the 10 components of the composite measure improved, led by the rebound in stock prices and the spread between short- and long-term interest rates.

Fewer Claims

A separate report Thursday showed the fewest Americans in four decades filed for jobless benefits last week. The number of applications, which is one of the components of the leading index, dropped to 247,000 in the week ended April 16, the least since 1973, according to the Labor Department. Last week coincided with the period that the government surveys businesses and households to calculate payrolls and the jobless rate for the monthly report, next due May 6.

The Conference Board’s coincident economic index, a measure of current economic activity, was little changed after a 0.1 percent increase the prior month. The 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 climbed 0.4 percent last month after advancing 0.5 percent in February.

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