US leading indicators: a recovery by Halloween?

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File
On the New York Stock Exchange, traders have seen share prices stabilize. Stock prices helped push up The Conference Board's index of leading indicators in May.

Leading indicators for the US economy jumped sharply in May for the second month in a row, marking the first back-to-back increase since 2004 and the most robust pickup since 2003, according to a new report Thursday.

"The six-month change in the index has become positive for the first time in two years," The Conference Board said in its release of its index of leading indicators. The monthly index rose 1.2 percent in May over the previous month, following a 1.1 percent increase in April.

Seven of the index's 10 components were positive, led by improvements in supplier deliveries, the widening spread between interest rates on 10-year Treasury bonds and the rates banks charge each other, and stock prices. The index is designed to forecast economic conditions a few months ahead.

The two-month rebound was especially noteworthy because, through March, the index had endured a long 18-month slide, said Ken Goldstein, economist for The Conference Board, in a telephone interview.

The index doesn't guarantee a rebound, he emphasizes. Still, "having gone from a full red stop, it looks like it's a pretty strong green light. Not for this summer. But come Halloween, we could have more treat than trick."


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