Growing uncertainties in the labor and housing markets are pointing to slower economic growth in the months ahead. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

Leading Indicators Fall

Labor and housing market woes dragged down the index of leading indicators in February, the fifth straight month of declines, the Conference Board reported Thursday.

Only four of ten index components improved last month, including the real money supply and interest rate spread. Those gains were offset by a surge in jobless claims, weaker vendor performance, and fewer building permits, among other factors.     

The index, which gauges economic activity in the months ahead, has fallen by 1.5 percent in past six months, the longest downturn since early 2001.

A separate gauge of current activity was unchanged last month.

Gas Price Up

Average prices at the pump rose by 5.9 cents last week to a record-high $3.284 per gallon, 70.7 cents higher than the same period last year, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Gas prices were up in every region, including historic highs in the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the West Coast, the report said.

Prices in California were the nation's highest at $3.604 per gallon, nearly 50 cents higher than a year ago.

Jobless Claims Rise

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 22,000 last week to 378,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percent from the previous week to 2.2 percent, representing about 2.865 million people filing for jobless benefits.

The largest gains in new claims last week were in California, Michigan and Indiana, while declines were reported in New York, Connecticut and South Carolina.