U.S. Leading Index, Jobless Claims Rise A Bit

The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators for the U.S. rose one-tenth of a percentage point in July, following a 1.2% increase in June and no change in May. July's small increase keeps the index on "a slightly rising trend," notes the New York-based business research group. The leading index for the U.S., a preview of the economy during the next three to six months, now stands at 138.3 (1996=100).

The leading index has increased at a 2.2% annual growth rate during the past six months, although the rate of growth has "slowed steadily" through the first half of 2005, says the Conference Board. "This behavior is consistent with the [U.S.] economy continuing to expand moderately in the near term."

Declining claims for unemployment insurance, the biggest positive contributor to the leading index in July, reversed course slightly last week. Initial jobless claims rose to 316,000 in the week ending August 13, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 310,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported on August 18. The department's four-week moving average of initial claims also increased a bit to 312,750, some 2,750 more than the previous week's revised average of 310,000. Neither the higher weekly figure nor the higher four-week average, however, is large enough to suggest a shift away from respectable rate of job creation in the overall U.S. economy.

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