CB Leading Economic Index Declines, Deepening Recession Fears
The latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) fell for the 17th consecutive month in August as economic uncertainty and recession fears continue to grow. The index dropped 0.4% from last month to 105.4, the index's lowest reading since June 2020.
With August’s decline, the US Leading Economic Index has now fallen for nearly a year and a half straight, indicating the economy is heading into a challenging growth period and possible recession over the next year,” said Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, Senior Manager, Business Cycle Indicators, at The Conference Board. “The leading index continued to be negatively impacted in August by weak new orders, deteriorating consumer expectations of business conditions, high interest rates, and tight credit conditions. All these factors suggest that going forward economic activity probably will decelerate and experience a brief but mild contraction. The Conference Board forecasts real GDP will grow by 2.2 percent in 2023, and then fall to 0.8 percent in 2024.” More
Background on the Conference Board Leading Economic Index® (LEI)
The LEI is a composite index of several indicators. It is a predictive variable that anticipates, or leads, turning points in the business cycle and anticipates where the economy is heading. 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 chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER. Note the peaks of the index preceding each of the recessions and the troughs occurring near the end of each recession.
In August, most components were negative or made small positive contributions.
Leading Economic Index and Recession Risk
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 10.5% 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 20 months off from the 2021 peak.