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Leading Economic Indicators Rise

May 17, 2001

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NEW YORK (AP) _ An important gauge of future economic activity rose 0.1 percent in April, gaining after two consecutive monthly declines and suggesting that the U.S. economy is starting to recover.

The Conference Board said its Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose to 108.7 last month after slipping a revised 0.2 percent in March and 0.2 percent in February. The improvement reflects the positive effect of the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate cuts.

``The declining trend in the leading index is softening, in no small part because monetary policy is delivering money growth ... ″ said Ken Goldstein, economist for the New York-based business research group.

The April increase was only the second in the last seven months, Goldstein said. The cumulative change in the index over the past six months was a 1.3 percent decline.

Three consecutive declines in the index traditionally have been considered a sign that the economy is headed into recession.

In an attempt to stave off a recession, the Fed has slashed interest rates five times this year, on each occasion by a half percentage point. The most recent rate cut came Tuesday.

In a separate report Thursday, the Labor Department reported said that initial applications for jobless benefits fell by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 380,000 for the work week ending May 12.

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