Leading Indicators Give Up Recent Gain

March 20, 2003

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The Index of Leading Economic Indicators dropped 0.4% in February after rising modestly for four months.

The Conference Board reports that a parallel index measuring current economic activity was unchanged following a 0.2% rise in January. This is more significant for freight and truck buying activity, according to Jim Haughey, senior economist for Newport Communications.
The drop confirms that the December/January spurt in the economy is over, cut short by war concerns with an assist from severe winter weather. Employment, manufacturing production and retail sales have already been reported to have declined in February.
Declines in stock prices, short-term interest rates, consumer confidence and manufacturing orders caused the leading index to decline. But already stock indexes and T-bill rates have begun rising again, Haughey said.
The sour report is likely to be at least partially reversed in March or April, but the leading indicator is still signaling a sluggish economy in the first half of the year.

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