WASHINGTON -- Signs of a healthy labor market and rising consumer optimism in June were tempered by weakness in stock prices and real estate, a research group said yesterday, suggesting slow to moderate near-term economic growth.
The Conference Board, an industry-backed research group in New York, said its index of leading economic indicators inched higher in June, the first increase since March.
The index, which is designed to predict economic activity three to six months in the future, stands at 138.1, or 1 percent below January's level.
``It doesn't tell us that the economy is in trouble or roaring ahead," said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities in New York.
``It is exactly the kind of picture you'd expect from an economy moving into a period of moderate economic growth. We will see conflicting signs," he added.
In testimony before Congress yesterday, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said the slowdown in the US housing market ``appears to be orderly." That followed comments a day earlier in which he said the cooling off of the economy should help tame inflation, which runs the risk of accelerating due to soaring energy prices.
Also yesterday, the Labor Department reported a sharp decline in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, reflecting fewer layoffs in the auto industry. The agency said 304,000 newly laid off workers filed applications for benefits, a drop of 30,000 from the previous week, when claims had surged by 20,000.
Six out of the 10 indicators that comprise the Conference Board's leading index rose in June -- the biggest positive contributor was a decline in average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance. Several indicators declined in June -- vendor performance, building permits, and stock prices. Holding steady were manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials.