By John S. McClenahen
When the U.S. Commerce Department puts out first-quarter 2002 GDP data on April 26, the numbers are likely to show inflation-adjusted growth at an annual rate of about 5%. But other numbers are suggesting that torrid pace will not be matched in the current quarter -- nor, perhaps, the rest of the year. For example, the Conference Board's Index of Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) rose just 0.1% in March, a couple of tenths of a percentage point below the more bullish 0.3% widely anticipated. The LEI generally presents a preview of what U.S. economic activity will be like three to six months in the future. One of the drags on growth is the rate of new claims for unemployment insurance. Claims climbed by 1,000 to 4445,000 during the week ending April 13, says the U.S. Labor Department, the opposite of the decline to 413,000 that many economists expected. The four-week moving average for initial jobless claims also advanced, reaching 448,750 for the week ending April 13, an increase of 13,750 from the previous week. "U.S. economic recovery appears to be underway," say the Conference Board's economists. "The combination of rising energy prices, the current global instability and the more cautious consumer and business sectors, however, might slow the pace of economic growth in the near term."