The Conference Board U.S. leading index in April grew for the second straight month as stocks and building permits posted gains.

According to the group’s report released Monday, stock prices, interest-rate spread and housing permits made large positive contributions to the index last month, pushing it up another 0.1 percent, despite sharp declines in average weekly manufacturing hours and consumer expectations.

The leading index now stands at 102.

In April, the six-month rate of decline in the leading index slowed to -1.2 percent (a -2.3 percent annual rate) from -2.4 percent (a -4.7 percent annual rate) between July 2007 and January 2008. After declining steadily since the middle of 2007, the leading index appears to have stabilized lately, increasing slightly in March and April, as the "weaknesses among the leading indicators have become somewhat less widespread in the last two months," the report stated.

Meanwhile, real GDP, which measures the total value of goods and services produced nationwide in a given period, expanded at a 0.6 percent annual rate during the first quarter, on par with the rate that prevailed in the fourth quarter of 2007.

According to the report, "the current behavior of the composite indexes so far still suggests that economic activity is likely to remain weak in the near term."


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