April 19, 2007 -- A closely-watched gauged of the economy flattened out in March, pointing to weaker economic growth in the months ahead, the Conference Board said Thursday.

The index of leading economic indicators, which gauges the near-term strength of the economy, grew by just 0.1 percent in March, following declines in the previous two months, the New York-based private research group said.

The slight increase was driven by positive gains in jobless claims and real money supply, but offset by declines in stock prices, consumer expectations, and the interest rate spread.

The leading index is now 0.9 percent below its most recent high in January 2006.

At the same time, the coincident index -- a measure of present conditions -- increased in March and has grown steadily by 0.9 percent since September. Its strength has been driven largely by non-agricultural employment.

"The data may be pointing to a softer economy this summer," Ken Goldstein, the group's labor economist, said in a statement. "Only the consumer sector, buoyed by income growth and positive attitudes, remains a strong point in the economic picture."

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Published on: Apr 19, 2007