CB LEI: Down 0.3% in February, Still Pointing to Risk of Recession
This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at Advisor Perspectives/VettaFi.
The latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for February was down 0.3% to 110.0 from January's final figure of 110.3, marking the 11th consecutive MoM decline. Today's reading was consistent with the Investing.com forecast.
The Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI) for the U.S. fell again by 0.3 percent in February 2023 to 110.0 (2016=100), after also declining by 0.3 percent in January. The LEI is down 3.6 percent over the six-month period between August 2022 and February 2023—a steeper rate of decline than its 3.0 percent contraction over the previous six months (February–August 2022).
“The LEI for the US fell again in February, marking its eleventh consecutive monthly decline,” said Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, Senior Manager, Business Cycle Indicators, at The Conference Board. “Negative or flat contributions from eight of the index’s ten components more than offset improving stock prices and a better-than-expected reading for residential building permits. While the rate of month-over-month declines in the LEI have moderated in recent months, the leading economic index still points to risk of recession in the US economy. The most recent financial turmoil in the US banking sector is not reflected in the LEI data but could have a negative impact on the outlook if it persists. Overall, The Conference Board forecasts rising interest rates paired with declining consumer spending will most likely push the US economy into recession in the near term.” More
The LEI is a composite index of several indicators. It is a predictive variable that anticipates, or leads, turning points in the business cycle. Since the LEI is comprised of multiple components, it is meant to provide a clearer picture as it is able to smooth out volatility associated with individual components. The ten components of Conference Board LEI include: Average weekly hours in manufacturing; Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance; Manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials; ISM® Index of New Orders; Manufacturers’ new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders; Building permits for new private housing units; S&P 500® Index of Stock Prices; Leading Credit Index™; Interest rate spread (10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds rate); Average consumer expectations for business conditions.
Here is a log-scale chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER. The use of a log scale gives us a better sense of the relative sizes of peaks and troughs than a more conventional linear scale.
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. We are currently 6.6% off the 2021 peak. The chart also calls out the number of months between the previous peak and official recessions. On average, there is usually 10.6 months between a peak and a recession. We are currently 14 months away from the 2021 peak.