Measure of U.S. Economy Falls 0.3 Percent in June

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure of future U.S. economic activity declined in June, the latest signal that the economic recovery is sputtering.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators declined 0.3 percent in June after a 0.4 percent increase in May. The index fell 0.1 percent in April, its first drop in seven months.

Weakness in new orders, consumer expectations and building permits contributed to the decline.

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Other economic data released Thursday added to the gloom. Sales of previously occupied homes in the U.S. fell 5.4 percent, to the lowest level since October. And the number of people applying for unemployment benefits jumped by the biggest weekly amount in more than a year.

Some economists were skeptical of the data on claims for unemployment benefits, suggesting that they were skewed by seasonal factors.

Six of the 10 components of the Conference Board's index fell last month. The biggest driver of the decrease was a new orders index that is based on a survey by the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. Average consumer expectations also declined, as did building permits, stock prices and new orders for long-lasting factory goods excluding defense and aircraft, a measure of business investment. Average new claims for unemployment benefits increased.

The four components that improved were interest rates, average hours worked by factory workers, a separate index of credit produced by the Conference Board and new orders to factories for consumer goods and materials.

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"The U.S. economy is growing very slowly," said Ken Goldstein, an economist with the Conference Board. A separate index that tracks current economic activity increased modestly, he said, but the leading indicators index "is pointing to no strengthening over the next few months, as the economy continues to sail through strong headwinds domestically and internationally."

The Conference Board is a business advocacy group that also provides economic research.

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