State and Nation Business

Gauge of U.S. economy up for 3rd straight month

WASHINGTON – A measure of the U.S. economy’s health rose in March for the third consecutive month, a sign of stronger growth after harsh winter weather caused the economy’s pace to slow.

The Conference Board said Monday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.8 percent in March after a 0.5 percent rise in February and modest 0.2 percent gain in January.

It was the best showing since a 0.9 percent gain in November.

Both hiring and consumer outlooks have improved, which along with interest rates fueled much of the index’s improvement. That offset a negative contribution from building permits.

The index looks at a series of different indicators to spot peaks and troughs in economic growth.

Conference Board economists say the gains last month point to “accelerated growth for the remainder of the spring and the summer,” although it remains to be seen whether employers continue to hire at their March and February pace of almost 200,000 workers a month.

“The economy is rebounding from widespread inclement weather and the strengthening in the labor market is beginning to have a positive impact on growth,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board. “Overall, this is an optimistic report.”

Many economists expect the overall growth rate in the January-March quarter will dip below 2 percent because of the weather disruptions but they are forecasting a rebound in coming quarters to growth of around 3 percent.

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