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Economic Report: U.S. economy still growing, leading index shows, but more trouble spots emerge

The numbers: The U.S. leading index rose 0.3% in March and signaled the economy is likely to stay in expansion mode through the summer, though more trouble spots have emerged.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.2% increase.

The economy has picked up since coronavirus cases waned early in the year. Yet high inflation, rising interest rates, a tight labor market and ongoing supply-chain bottlenecks are likely to put a cap on just how fast the U.S. grows.

The LEI is a weighted gauge of 10 indicators designed to signal business-cycle peaks and valleys.

Key details: A measure of current economic conditions rose 0.4% in March for the second month in a row, the Conference Board said Thursday. The privately run company is the publisher of the report.

The so-called lagging index — a look of sorts in the rearview mirror — climbed 0.6%.

Big picture: The U.S. economy is in pretty good shape. Consumers are still spending plenty of money and businesses are hiring and investing. Layoffs are at record lows.

Yet the highest inflation in 40 years is a big sore spot for Main Street and Wall Street. The Federal Reserve plans to raise interest rates swiftly in the next year to try cool off inflation, raising the prospect that the economy could slow.

Looking ahead: “This broad-based improvement [in the leading index] signals economic growth is likely to continue through 2022 despite volatile stock prices and weakening business and consumer expectations,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economic research at the board.

The board forecasts the U.S. will grow 3% in 2022, down from 5.6% in the prior year.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+0.78%

and S&P 500
SPX,
+0.86%

rose in Thursday trades.

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