Economic Indicators Showing Signs of Life

Leading economic indicators (LEI) rose 0.9 percent in October, a sign that the U.S. economy is likely to see accelerated growth and not slip into a feared double-dip recession.  According to The Conference Board, its index of leading economic indicators rose significantly faster than the revised 0.1 percent rise in September and the 0.3 percent increase in August.  After growing at an anemic pace of just 0.9 percent in the first six months of 2011, the economy grew 2.5 percent in the July – September quarter.  Some analysts are looking for even stronger growth in the 4th quarter.

Economists said the October gain and other positive reports recently should ease fears that the nation is in danger of slipping into a double-dip recession.  According to Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein, the latest leading indicators report was pointing “to continued growth this winter, possibly even gaining a little momentum by spring.”

The leading economic indicators is a subjective gauge of 10 indicators designed to signal business cycle highs and lows.  Among the 10 indicators, nine made positive contributions in October, led by building permits, the interest-rate spread, and average weekly manufacturing hours.  The sole negative contribution came from faster supplier deliveries.

Increases in consumer spending, manufacturing and homebuilding — along with fewer job losses — highlight an economy that is weathering the turbulence in financial markets caused by the European debt crisis.  Even so, a nine percent unemployment rate and political gridlock over deficit-cutting are hurting confidence, which may hamper a further pickup in the pace of growth.  “The economy looks to be getting better despite the continued drumbeat of negativity in financial markets,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., who accurately forecast the gain.  “That speaks to U.S. resiliency.  If we can put some of these fiscal issues behind us, even for a short period of time, we might be able to come back.”

Another positive sign can be found in the University of Michigan’s six-month index of consumer expectations which rose to 56.2 in November, a five-month high, compared with 51.8 in October.  A word of caution — the measure remains below the 80.5 average of the previous expansion that ended in December 2007.

October’s results suggest strong ongoing economic activity, said Millan Mulraine, TD Securities’ economics strategist.  “On the whole, this report underscores the positive tone of the recent flow of economic reports pointing to a meaningful pick-up in overall economic activity during the quarter,” Mulraine said.  “And while the economy remains vulnerable to missteps in Europe and Washington, there is every indication that the recovery is slowly moving into the clear, building on the momentum from the last quarter.”

According to Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at The Conference Board, “The October rebound of the LEI — largely due to the sharp pick-up in housing permits — suggests that the risk of an economic downturn has receded. Improving consumer expectations, stock markets, and labor market indicators also contributed to this month’s gain in the LEI as did the continuing positive contributions from the interest rate spread.  The Coincident Economic Index also rose somewhat, led by higher industrial production and employment.”