Conference Board Leading Economic Index Increased Again in April

May 21, 2015

by Doug Short

The Latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for April is now available. The index rose 0.7 percent, which follows a 0.4 percent March increase (an upward revision from 0.2 percent). The latest number came in aboove the 0.3 percent forecast by Investing.com.

Here is an overview from the LEI press release:

The Conference Board LEI for the U.S. increased again in April, with building permits and the yield spread making large positive contributions. In the six-month period ending April 2015, the leading economic index increased 2.0 percent (about a 4.0 percent annual rate), considerably slower than the growth of 3.5 percent (about a 7.2 percent annual rate) during the previous six months. However, the strengths among the leading indicators remain more widespread than the weaknesses.   [Full notes in PDF]

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

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

"April’s sharp increase in the LEI seems to have helped stabilize its slowing trend, suggesting the paltry economic growth in the first quarter may be temporary," said Ataman Ozyildirim, Economist at The Conference Board. "However, the growth of the LEI does not support a significant strengthening in the economic outlook at this time. The improvement in building permits helped to drive the index up this month, but gains in other components, in particular the financial indicators, have been somewhat more muted."

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.

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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.

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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.

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