CB Leading Economic Index: No Longer Forecasting Recession

The latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) fell for a 22nd consecutive month in January as the LEI continues to signal headwinds to economic activity in the U.S. However, for the first time in the past two years, the index is no longer forecasting a recession in 2024. The index dropped 0.4% from last month to 102.7, the index's lowest reading since May 2020.

“The U.S. LEI fell further in January, as weekly hours worked in manufacturing continued to decline and the yield spread remained negative,” said Justyna Zabinska-La Monica, Senior Manager, Business Cycle Indicators, at The Conference Board. “While the declining LEI continues to signal headwinds to economic activity, for the first time in the past two years, six out of its ten components were positive contributors over the past six-month period (ending in January 2024). As a result, the leading index currently does not signal recession ahead. While no longer forecasting a recession in 2024, we do expect real GDP growth to slow to near zero percent over Q2 and Q3.” 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.

Conference Board's Leading Economic Index Components

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.

Conference Board's Leading Economic Index

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 12.8% 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 25 months off from the 2021 peak.

Leading Economic Index and Recessions