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Leading Indicators Led Downward

One month does not make a trend. But manufacturing executives should at least take note that the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators for the U.S. fell in February, its first decrease in five months. The leading index now stands at 139.0 (1996=100).

Reassuring, however, is that manufacturers' new orders for non-defense capital goods, average weekly manufacturing hours, and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials were among the five index indicators that increased last month. What's more, the recent trend of the leading index suggests that sluggish U.S. economic growth in 2005's final quarter (a 1.6% annual rate) "is likely" to pick up soon, says the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group.

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