Leading Economic Index Leads Economy Lower

worker using torch cutter to cut through metal
worker using torch cutter to cut through metal

The Conference Board is out with its Leading Economic Index for the month of March. So far this morning we already have seen a weak report on weekly jobless claims from the Labor Department and we have seen a Philadelphia Federal Reserve business outlook signaling weak growth that is barely growth, negative employment trends and weak production. Unfortunately, this is a negative report as well, after being positive for two months.

The Leading Economic Index was down by 0.1% to 94.7 for March. Prior reports had shown a 0.5% gain in both February and in January, but we note that this was still above the 94.3 reading of January. Be advised that the "leading" title of this report is not really all that leading. Many of the components are already known ahead of the formal report, and it looks back at the prior month when new data for the current month has already hit the tape.

Despite a slight March decline, the Conference Board is maintaining that the equally balanced strengths and weaknesses of the components actually still points to a continuing growth environment, even if that is very slow growth. Consumer expectations and housing permits were weak in March, but positive readings were shown in interest rate spreads and also other financial components.

The coincident economic index is meant to measure current conditions, and that has been down since December, due largely to a steep decline in personal income. The lagging portion of this index helped to keep the report from being worse as the report was up 0.4 points at 118.6 in March.

We previously said that much of this report is known ahead of time. Here are the 10 components which make up the Leading Economic Index:

  • Average weekly hours, manufacturing

  • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance

  • Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods and materials

  • ISM 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

  • Average consumer expectations for business conditions

As this marks the third weak economic reading, the gains have turned into losses. At 10:50 a.m. EST, we have the S&P 500 down about three points at 1,549 and the DJIA is down about 14 points at 14,604.

Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Economy Tagged: featured