Nervous Consumers Pull Leading Indicators Down 0.1%

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index fell 0.1% to 94.7 for March, according to a Conference Board report (link opens in PDF) released today. After bumping up 0.5% in January and again in February, this latest report fell shy of analysts' expectations of a 0.2% rise.

The Conference Board said the gauge still points to "a continuing but slow growth environment."

The Leading Economic Index attempts to identify economic turning points by aggregating a variety of individual indicators. It uses 2004 as a benchmark 100 score, and dropped as low as 78 in 2009, and reached as high as 108 in 2006.

Although the most recent slump is unwelcome news for the economy, gains and losses were fairly equally distributed across all index components. While consumer expectations and housing permits pulled indicators into the red, the positive interest rate spread (lending rate minus deposit rate) and other financial components pushed overall results nearly back into black.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said in a statement today that weak demand could continue to hurt both public and private sector economies: "Data for March reflect an economy that has lost some steam. In addition to headwinds from government spending cuts, the private sector economy may struggle to maintain its momentum. The biggest challenge remains weak demand, due to nervous consumer sentiment and slow income growth."

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