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More fodder for the argument that the United States economy is slowing: The government's index of leading indicators nudged ahead only 0.4 percent in September, after three months of decreases.

The September index could be revised downward when firmer data on inventories are available. In the past, such repeatedly weak performance by this index - whose data are supposed to predict the direction of the economy in coming weeks and months - has foreshadowed slowdowns.

The last time the index fell for three months in a row was in 1981, during a recession. But economists see the index as a very rough estimate. In 1966, the index dropped nine months in a row without a recession.

The index for September reached 164.6, compared with a base of 100 in 1967.

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