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Leading indicators in the U.S. rose in February as hiring improves

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The index of U.S. leading economic indicators increased in February, reflecting continued signs of a healthy labor market.

The Conference Board’s measure of the economic outlook for the next three to six months rose 0.1 percent in February after sliding 0.2 percent the month before, the New York-based group said Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 0.2 percent increase.

“The outlook remains positive with little chance of a downturn in the near-term,” Ataman Ozyildirim, director of business cycles and growth research at the Conference Board, said in a statement.

Four of the 10 indicators of the composite measure increased, led by fewer applications for jobless benefits, stronger manufacturing orders and a narrower spread between long- and short-term interest rates.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for the LEI ranged from a 0.2 percent decrease to a 0.5 percent advance. A drop in building permits weighed on the index.

A separate report Thursday showed initial jobless claims in the U.S. rose less than forecast last week. The number of applications climbed to 265,000 in the week ended March 12, according to the Labor Department. Last week coincided with the period that the government surveys businesses and households to calculate payrolls and the jobless rate for March.

The Conference Board’s coincident economic index, a measure of current economic activity, rose 0.1 percent in February, after a 0.3 percent increase the prior month. The index tracks payrolls, incomes, sales and production — the measures used by the National Bureau of Economic Research to determine the beginning and end of U.S. recessions.

The gauge of lagging indicators advanced 0.4 percent last month after a 0.1 percent gain the month before.

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