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.

Meanwhile, real GDP growth, which measures the total value of goods and services produced by the United States in a given period, slowed substantially to 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, down from 4.9 percent in the third quarter and an average of 2.2 percent, annual rate, in the first half of 2007.

The Conference Board noted that the current behavior of the composite indexes suggests economic weakness is likely to continue in the near term.


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