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Report: Economic outlook less dismal

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After five straight months of declines, The Conference Board's U.S. leading index for March showed a slight uptick in the outlook for the economy. According to a report released today by the group, money supply, vendor performance and interest-rate spread pushed the index up 0.1 percent last month to a reading of 102 despite large negative impacts from rising jobless claims and lower building permit numbers and stock prices. During the six-month period ending in March, the leading index, considered a gauge of economic activity over the next three to six months, declined 1.6 percent (a -3.3 percent annual rate), and the weaknesses among its components have been very widespread, The Conference Board reported. Since the middle of 2007, the leading index has been declining while the coincident index, a measure of current economic activity, has also deteriorated in recent months. In addition, the weaknesses have also become more widespread among the components of both indexes...