WASHINGTON, Dec 22 - A gauge of future U.S. economic activity rose more than expected in November due to a sharp pick-up in new permits to build homes, suggesting economic momentum could increase by spring, the Conference Board said.
The private firm's Leading Economic Index rose 0.5 percent in November to 118.0, following a 0.9 percent increase in October. It was the seventh straight monthly gain in the index.
"The risk of an economic downturn in the near term has receded," said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at the Conference Board, which published the index on Thursday.
Ken Goldstein, another Conference Board economist, said the index suggested the economy could pick up steam by spring.
Still, the U.S. economy faces potentially major headwinds as Europe struggles with a sovereign debt crisis and U.S. lawmakers consider whether to allow a payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits to expire.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the index to rise 0.3 percent in November.
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