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Indicators suggest growth is ebbing

Analysts: Decline in forecasting index, leap in jobless claims point to cooling economy

NEW YORK -- A widely watched gauge of economic activity slipped in May, the Conference Board said yesterday, suggesting the nation's economy is likely to cool in the coming months.

Also indicating that economic growth is losing steam, the Labor Department reported yesterday that the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits climbed by the largest amount in five weeks.

``The two releases together suggest that the economy is currently enjoying sturdy growth, but growth is slowing, and will slow further in the months and year ahead," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

The Conference Board, an industry-backed research group, said its index of leading economic indicators fell 0.6 percent to 137.9 in May after it declined 0.1 percent to 138.7 in April.

It was index's third decline in six months, and the lowest figure since a reading of 136.9 in October. The drop comes as gasoline prices run high, interest rates creep up, and the home sales market grows tepid.

The Labor Department's report showed that 308,000 people filed for jobless benefits last week, a bigger-than-expected rise of 11,000 from the previous week.

Analysts believe job growth will flag as the year progresses, and layoffs will rise as businesses adjust their hiring plans in anticipation of a slowdown.

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