The Leading Economic Index (LEI) published by the Conference Board increased 0.6% in September, echoing the trend that’s been unfolding with the release of individual indicators in recent weeks and summarized yesterday in a broad review of last month’s numbers via The Capital Spectator Economic Trend Index. But in the wake of this morning’s sharp jump in weekly jobless claims figures for last week, the generally positive numbers for last month carry less weight than they did yesterday. All will be resolved, for good or ill, when we see more data for October in the coming weeks. Meantime, there are some new questions, if only on the margins.
For now, it’s still reasonable to assume that September’s modest growth will spill over into this month. Growth doesn’t usually evaporate overnight, even when it’s slow growth. The operative word, of course, is “usually.” Turning points in the business cycle can sometimes be elusive to mortal eyes in real time, and so there’s always a danger that the latest data points can mislead us. That said, the rear view mirror contains some cheery messages. “The U.S. LEI increased in September, more than offsetting the decline in August,” says Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at The Conference Board, in a press release. “The LEI has been signaling an economy that is fluctuating around a slow growth trend.”
The slow growth comes with caveats, of course. As another economist at the Conference Board noted in the press release: “The single biggest challenge remains weak demand, domestically and globally. The struggle to regain firmer ground – in financial markets, international trade and global industrial output – continues because of weak consumer demand and a lack of more robust business investment,” Ken Goldstein reminds.