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Published: Thursday, 6/21/2012

Measure of U.S. economy rose 0.3 percent in May


WASHINGTON — A measure of future U.S. economic activity rose in May to the highest level in four years, a sign the economy will keep growing but at a modest pace.

The Conference Board said today that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent last month, after a 0.1 percent drop in April. April’s drop was the first in seven months.

The index is now at 95.8. The last time it was higher was June, 2008, six months into the Great Recession. Prior to the recession, the index routinely topped 100.

Other figures released today, however, suggest the economy is softening. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits were little changed last week from a level that signals weak job growth.

And factory activity in the Philadelphia region contracted for the second straight month, according to a survey by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.

Seven of the ten components of the Conference Board’s index rose last month. The biggest drivers of the increase in the index were building permits, the spread between short-term and long-term interest rates, and an increase in new manufacturing orders, according to a survey by the Institute for Supply Management.

The economy “is growing modestly, neither losing nor gaining momentum,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, a business research group. “The result is more of a muddle through.”

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