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Economy in Brief

U.S. Leading Indicators Decelerate in December
by Gerald D. Cohen  January 28, 2021

• Leading index rises 0.3% in December as slowdown from the 0.7% gain in November.

• Seven components increase, led by ISM manufacturing new orders.

• Three decrease, most notably the contribution from jobless claims.

The Conference Board's Composite Index of Leading Economic Indicators increased 0.3% during December (-1.7% year-on-year) following a slightly upwardly revised 0.7% gain in November (was 0.6%). The Action Economics survey anticipated a 0.5% rise. The Leading Index is comprised of 10 components which tend to precede changes in overall economic activity. Seven of those components contributed positively, led by rising ISM manufacturing new orders. A jump in weekly jobless claims, which was indicative of the job loss experienced in December, was the most notable of the three components with negative contributions. Given the dependence of the economy on the progression of COVID-19, the normally forward-looking measures of the Leading Index are less telling.

The Index of Coincident Economic Indicators also increased 0.3% in December (-3.6% y/y), following a downwardly revised 0.1% gain in November (was 0.2%). This puts the Q4 average of the coincident index 5.9% annualized above the Q3 average. In contrast, as reported earlier this morning, GDP grew at a 4.0% annual rate in Q4. Even with its rebound in the last eight months, the coincident index in December was still down 3.8% from its February peak. Three out of the four component series of the coincident measure increased, led by industrial production. Meanwhile, the decline in payroll employment was a drag.

The Conference Board figures are available in Haver's BCI database; the components are available there, and most are also in USECON. The expectations are in the AS1REPNA database. Visit the Conference Board's site for coverage of leading indicator series from around the world.

Business Cycle Indicators (%) Dec Nov Oct Dec Y/Y 2020 2019 2018
Leading 0.3 0.7 0.9 -1.7 -4.9 1.6 5.7
Coincident 0.3 0.1 0.6 -3.6 -4.4 1.8 2.5
Lagging 0.1 0.1 0.2 -1.0 1.3 2.8 2.5
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