Leading indicators rise 0.8 percent in February

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 11:05 AM

NEW YORK -- A private research group's measure of future economic activity rose 0.8 percent in February, as the job market showed improvement and consumers were more optimistic.

It's the eighth consecutive month that the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators has shown growth.

February's pace was faster than the previous month's, when the index rose just 0.1 percent. But it was lower than December's revised reading of 1.0 percent.

Economists surveyed by FactSet expected the index to grow 0.9 percent last month.

Although data points to an improving economy, rising food and energy prices could affect economic growth, said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein in a statement.

Also unknown is how the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, following the massive earthquake and tsunami, will impact the U.S. economy. Some economists have said the impact should be minimal.

Eight of the 10 components in the Conference Board's index increased last month, led by a measure of interest rates that has historically pointed at a quickening economy and rising prices. That measure is the difference between 10-year Treasury yields and the overnight bank lending rate the Federal Reserve is keeping at zero.

Rising stock prices and a rise in the number of average weekly hours worked in manufacturing also boosted the index.

A plunge in building permits, an indicator of future construction, was the main drag on the index. That could be a sign that the housing recovery is still far from seeing a recovery.

The Conference Board, based in New York, uses data that has mostly already been released about real estate, manufacturing, employment, consumer confidence and financial markets in calculating the leading indicator index. The Conference Board also includes its own estimates about manufacturers' new orders and the country's money supply.

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