Leading U.S. Indicators Up; Jobless Claims Down

By Agence France-Presse The index of leading economic indicators, a closely watched barometer of U.S. growth prospects, rose a better-than-expected 0.4% in October, the Conference Board said Nov. 20. The private research firm also revised its index for September to show a flat index instead of a 0.2% decline. The leading index has now increased at a 5.7% annual rate over the last six months, suggesting widespread strength in the world's largest economy. "Latest economic data point to continued economic growth in the next year," said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. "Creation of 250,000 new jobs in September and October demonstrates that the labor market is starting to stir. Overall economic growth is being propelled by the consumer, who continues to hang in there and spend, although cautiously." Six of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index proved positive in October, including building permits, vendor performance, stock prices, index of consumer expectations and interest rate spread. Additionally, the number of U.S. workers filing for unemployment benefits shrank by 15,000 to 355,000 in the week to Nov. 15, the Labor Department said. The figure was much lower than the average of 365,000 new claims expected by analysts and just above the 350,000 mark that could signal sustained job growth in the economy. The negative contributors were the real money supply, manufacturers' new orders for nondefense capital goods and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials. Average weekly manufacturing hours held steady in October. The index now stands at 113.6, from a 1996 base of 100. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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