Although the economic outlook improved for the second straight month in October, sluggish real estate markets and weaker corporate profit growth will keep the economy on a slow track, The Conference Board reported today.
The U.S. leading index, a key barometer of future economic conditions, gained 0.2 percent in October to 138.3, following a 0.4 increase in September and a 0.3 percent decline in August.
“In sum, the impact of a slower housing market on consumers and slower profit growth on business isn’t completely offset by lower gas prices and a rising stock market,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board, a nonprofit research group. “This suggests that the economy is unlikely either to reheat or to get significantly cooler. Instead, the kind of slow growth now being experienced could continue right through the winter and into the spring.”
Six of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index increased in October: money supply, consumer expectations, stock prices, average weekly manufacturing hours, manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials, and jobless claims.
Weakening vendor performance and building permits made the largest negative contributions to the leading index last month, according to The Conference Board.
The leading index has been fluctuating around a slightly downward short-term trend in recent months, with increases in September and October, but declines in July and August. As a result, it has fallen 0.6 percent below its most recent high reached in January. At the same time, real GDP growth slowed to a 1.6 percent (annual) rate in the third quarter, following a 5.6 percent gain in the first quarter and a 2.6 percent gain in the second quarter. The current behavior of the leading index suggests that slow economic growth is likely to continue in the near term.