The composite index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.1% in March following an unrevised 0.5% increase in February, the Conference Board reported Thursday.

The coincident index dipped 0.1% in March after a revised 0.5% rise in February, first reported as a 0.2% gain, while the lagging index rose 0.3% after a revised flat reading in February, first reported as a 0.1% increase.

The LEI stands at 94.7, the coincident index is at 105.2 and the lagging index is at 118.6 The LEI has a baseline of 100, which reflects the level in 2004.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters predicted LEI would be up 0.1% in the month.

"Data for March reflect an economy that has lost some steam," said the Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. "In addition to headwinds from government spending cuts, the private sector economy may struggle to maintain its momentum. The biggest challenge remains weak demand, due to nervous consumer sentiment and slow income growth."

"After three consecutive gains, the U.S. LEI dipped slightly in March, with equally balanced strengths and weaknesses among its components," said the Conference Board Economist Ataman Ozyildirim. "The leading indicator still points to a continuing but slow growth environment. Weakness in consumer expectations and housing permits was offset by positive interest rate spread and other financial components. Meanwhile, the coincident economic index, a measure of current conditions, is down since December due to a large decline in personal income."

Half of the 10 indicators that comprise the LEI rose in March: interest rate spread, Leading Credit Index (inverted), stock prices, manufacturers' new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials. Average consumer expectations for business conditions, building permits, the ISM new orders index, average weekly manufacturing hours, and average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance (inverted) were negative.

The coincident index saw industrial production, employees on nonagricultural payrolls, and manufacturing and trade sales rise in the month. Personal income less transfer payments was negative.

The lagging index saw positives from ratio of consumer installment credit to personal income, ratio of manufacturing and trade inventories to sales and change in index of labor cost per unit of output, manufacturing. Change in CPI for services, commercial industrial loans outstanding, and average duration of unemployment (inverted) were negative. The average prime rate charged by banks was flat in the month.

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