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Conference Board Leading Economic Index: Decrease in May

June 23, 2016

by Jill Mislinski

The Latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for May decreased 0.2 percent to 123.7 from April's unrevised 123.9 and small upward revisions were made to January (123.0 to 123.1) and March (123.1 to 123.2). The latest indicator value came in below the 0.1 percent forecast by Investing.com.

Here is an overview from the LEI technical press release:

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S. declined 0.2 percent in May to 123.7 (2010 = 100), following a 0.6 percent increase in April, and a 0.1 percent increase in March. [Full notes in PDF]

Here is a chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER.

Conference Board's LEI

For additional perspective on this indicator, see the latest press release, which includes this overview:

"The US LEI declined in May, primarily due to a sharp increase in initial claims for unemployment insurance. The growth rate of the LEI has moderated over the past year," said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board. "While the LEI suggests the economy will continue growing at a moderate pace in the near term, volatility in financial markets and a moderating outlook in labor markets could pose downside risks to growth."

For a better understanding of the relationship between the LEI and recessions, the next chart shows the percentage off the previous peak for the index and the number of months between the previous peak and official recessions.

LEI from Peak

LEI and Its Six-Month Smoothed Rate of Change

Based on suggestions from Neile Wolfe of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC and Dwaine Van Vuuren of RecessionAlert, we can tighten the recession lead times for this indicator by plotting a smoothed six-month rate of change to further enhance our use of the Conference Board's LEI as gauge of recession risk.

Smoothed LEI

As we can see, the LEI has historically dropped below its six-month moving average anywhere between 2 to 15 months before a recession. The latest reading of this smoothed rate-of-change suggests no near-term recession risk. Here is a twelve month smoothed out version, which further eliminates the whipsaws:

Smoothed LEI