Conference Board Leading Economic Index Increased in March

April 21st, 2014

by Doug Short

The Latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for March is now available. The index rose 0.8 percent to 100.9 percent and the five previous months were revised upward (2004 = 100). The latest number was above the 0.7 percent forecast by Investing.com.

Here is an overview from the LEI technical notes:

The Conference Board LEI for the U.S. increased for the third consecutive month in March. This month's gain in the leading economic index was driven by positive contributions from all the financial and labor market indicators. In the six-month period ending March 2014, the LEI increased 2.7 percent (about a 5.6 percent annual rate), slower than the growth of 3.3 percent (about a 6.6 percent annual rate) during the previous six months. In addition, the strengths among the leading indicators remain widespread. [Full notes in PDF

Here is a chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER.

And here is a closer look at this indicator since 2000. We can more readily see that the recovery from the 2000 trough weakened in 2012 but began trending higher in the latter part of the year.

For a more details on the latest data, here is an excerpt from the press release:

"The LEI rose sharply again, the third consecutive monthly increase," said Ataman Ozyildirim Economist at The Conference Board. "After a winter pause, the leading indicators are gaining momentum and economic growth is gaining traction. 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 March increase in the LEI suggests accelerated growth for the remainder of the spring and the summer," said Ken Goldstein, Economist at The Conference Board. "The economy is rebounding from widespread inclement weather and the strengthening in the labor market is beginning to have a positive impact on growth. Overall, this is an optimistic report, but 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."

For a better understanding of the relationship between the LEI and recessions, the next chart shows the percentage off the previous peak for the index and the number of months between the previous peak and official recessions.

Here is a look at the rate of change, which gives a closer look at behavior of the index in relation to recessions.

And finally, here is the same snapshot, zoomed in to the data since 2000.

Check back next month for an updated analysis.

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