U.S. Economic Barometer Climbs In January

By Agence France-Presse A barometer of U.S. economic prospects climbed in January, the Conference Board said Feb. 19, pointing to a solid expansion still menaced by weak job numbers in the first half of 2004. The private economic research firm's index of leading economic indicators, which aims to predict activity in the coming months, rose 0.6 points from the previous month to 115.0. "The leading index remains on an upward trend that first developed last spring," said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. The figures pointed to sustained growth in the first half of this year, Goldstein said. "But the road could get bumpy," he warned. "Consumer confidence could falter if job and wage growth don't continue to strengthen. Business confidence could erode. The lack of pricing power could be a big problem. But while these risks are important, their probabilities are not very high." The leading index is compiled from a basket of 10 indicators pointing to future activity, such as permits for house building. Five of the 10 indicators improved in January, led by consumer expectations, share prices, hours worked in factories, retail sales and jobless benefit claims. Detracting from the outlook were worse data for building permits, the interest rate spread, real money supply and new orders for non-defense capital goods. Manufacturers' orders for consumer goods were unchanged. "The continued growth in the leading index is signaling that strong economic growth should persist in the near term," the Conference Board report said. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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