Leading indicators slip for 1st time in 10 months

A private research group's forecasting gauge suggests some bumps in the economic recovery this summer.

A private research group's forecasting gauge suggests some bumps in the economic recovery this summer.

The Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading economic indicators dropped 0.3 percent in April, the first decline since June 2010.

The index had moved sharply higher in four of the past five months as the job market improved and the stock market rallied. Last month's spike in the number of people filing for unemployment assistance — which many economists viewed as a temporary event — and a troubled housing market weighed on the indicators. A measure that suggested the resurgence in the manufacturing sector was slackening also hurt.

In April, only four of the measures the Conference Board uses to calculate the index increased. Six declined.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says "economic growth will likely continue through the summer and fall, but the pace of economic activity may be choppy."

The dip in the leading indicators may be temporary, said High Frequency Economics' economist Ian Shepherdson. Natural disasters around the world, particularly Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami in March, disrupted industry supply chains this spring. Initial unemployment claims, which jumped to an eight-month high of 474,000 last month, fell back to a seasonally adjusted 409,000 last week, the Labor Department said. Claims around 375,000 or lower are consistent with sustainable job growth. Shepherdson expects claims to continue falling in summer as business hiring picks up.

But many economists are notching down their expectations for economic growth this year, partly because they expect higher oil prices will weigh on consumer spending. Earlier this week, economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics predicted that the economy would grow 2.8 percent this year, down from February's 3.3 percent forecast.

The Conference Board, a private research group based in New York, compiles data that has mostly already been released about real estate, manufacturing, employment, consumer confidence and financial markets. It uses that data to calculate the leading indicator index. The Conference Board also includes its own estimates about manufacturers' new orders and the country's money supply.

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