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The U.S. leading index, a key barometer of economic conditions, grew 0.2 percent in December, The Conference Board reported today. The leading index now stands at 115.4 (1996=100). Based on revised data, this index increased 0.3 percent in November and decreased 0.3 percent in October. During the six-month span through December, the leading index decreased 0.9 percent, with six out of 10 components advancing. These two consecutive increases in the leading index follow five consecutive declines, and the weakness in the leading indicators has become somewhat less widespread. It is now more likely that the five-month decline in the leading index was only a pause in the rising trend that has been underway since March 2003. The growth rate of the leading index slowed below its long-term trend (a 1.5 percent annual rate) in the second half of 2004, but not to a rate that has historically been associated with a recession. The behavior of the leading index since the middle of 2004 is con...