NEW YORK -- The US economy should expand only slightly in coming months as it continues to lose steam, a gauge of future growth showed yesterday.
But a resilient labor market indicates the economy remains generally healthy, economists said.
The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators climbed a tepid 0.1 percent to 137.4 in March, as expected. The index is designed to forecast economic activity over the next three to six months.
The latest reading reverses two consecutive months of declines. The index is still below its most recent high of 138.6 in January 2006 and the year-ago level of 138.5 in March 2006.
The reading tracks 10 economic indicators. Six of those readings were positive in March: initial unemployment claims, weekly manufacturing hours, real money supply, vendor performance, building permits, and manufacturers' orders for consumer goods and materials.
The negative contributors were stock prices, consumer expectations, interest rate spread and manufacturers' orders for nondefense capital goods.
In other economic data, the Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits slipped by 4,000 to 339,000 after hitting a two-month high a week earlier.
The decline in jobless claims was significantly smaller than the expected drop of around 20,000. But economists said the data signaled the labor market remains generally sound even with economic growth slowing over the past year.