A measure of the health of the U.S. economy turned sharply higher last month, according to a report released Monday morning from the private research group The Conference Board.
Its Leading Economic Index for the U.S. increased 0.8% in March to 100.9, following a 0.5% increase in February, and a 0.2% gain in January. The March increase was the best in four months.
“After a winter pause, the leading indicators are gaining momentum and economic growth is gaining traction,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, economist at The Conference Board. “While the improvements were broad-based, labor market indicators and the interest rate spread largely drove the March increase, offsetting the negative contribution from building permits. And, for the first time in many months, the consumer outlook is much less negative.”
The group says overall this is an optimistic report but said the focus will continue to be on whether improvements in the labor market can be sustained, fueling stronger economic performance over the next few months.
The index is designed to signal peaks and troughs in the business cycle that includes ten components:
Average weekly hours, manufacturing; average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance; manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials; Institute of Supply Management Index of New Orders; manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders; building permits, new private housing units; Stock prices, 500 common stocks; Leading Credit Index; Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds; and Average consumer expectations for business conditions