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Economic Report: The U.S. economy is still sluggish — leading indicators fall for fifth month in a row

The numbers: The U.S. leading index fell by 0.4% in July to mark the fifth decline in a row, reflecting a slowdown in the economy tied to rising interest rates and pessimism among consumers.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 0.5% decline.

The LEI is a gauge of 10 indicators designed to show whether the economy is getting better or worse. The report is published by the Conference Board, a private nonprofit organization.

Big picture: The U.S. economy appeared to sputter in the spring and early summer, but lately it’s shown more resilience. Employment surged in July, for instance, and the rate of layoffs has leveled off after a sharp uptick in the spring.

Consumers are still spending plenty of money, what’s more, and businesses continue to produce lots of goods and services.

There are storm clouds on the horizon, however.

The Federal Reserve is sharply raising interest rates to try to squelch the highest inflation in almost 40 years, and higher rates tend to slow the economy.

Some economists worry a recession could take place next year unless inflation relents and the Fed can take its foot off the brake.

“The US LEI declined for a fifth consecutive month in July, suggesting recession risks are rising in the near term,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economic research at the board.

Key details: The leading economic index fell in July largely because of declining stock prices, a slowdown in home building, higher jobless claims, falling consumer confidence and reduced orders for manufactured goods.

Already in August stocks have rebounded, though, and jobless claims have fallen.

The July report was not all negative, either. A measure of current economic condition rose 0.3% while the so-called lagging index — a look of sorts in the rearview mirror — moved up 0.4%.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

S&P 500

fell in Thursday trades.

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