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Activity index gains, Texas manufacturing dips

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Economic activity rose sharply in January, further evidence the recovery is gaining ground, but manufacturing in Texas slipped in February.

Men look over jobs listings while searching for employment at a jobs center in San Francisco, February 4, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on Monday said its gauge of the national economy rose to +0.02 from -0.58 in December, the second time in three months it was positive.

Also on Monday, however, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said its Texas monthly manufacturing index slumped to -0.1 in February from 8.3 in January.

The Chicago Fed data is encouraging news on the economy, said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors, in Albany, New York.

“If you couple that with other indicators, the evidence is very compelling the recession is over,” he said.

Last week, the Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of leading indicators rose for the 10th month to a record high in January, and a Philadelphia Fed survey showed factory activity in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region grew more than expected in February.

Also, the Federal Reserve last week raised the discount rate, which it charges for emergency lending to banks, sparking worries on Wall Street that it was the first move by the Fed -- the U.S. central bank -- to withdraw an easy money policy that has helped boost stocks.

On Monday, however, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen, speaking in San Diego, said the U.S. economy still needs ultra-low interest rates since inflation is “undesirably low,” and growth is expected to be sluggish for several years.

The Chicago national activity index’s three-month moving average increased to -0.16 in January from -0.47 in December, for its highest since July 2007.

The Chicago Fed said the three-month moving average suggests that, “consistent with the early stages of a recovery following a recession, growth in national economic activity is beginning to near its historical trend.”

If the three-month value moves above -0.70 following a period of economic contraction, there is an increasing likelihood a recession has ended, it said.

The monthly activity index from the Chicago Fed was consistently negative from June 2007 through October 2009.

In a potential sign of an improvement in consumer spending, home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos reported stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings and its chief executive said the results show the worst of the economic cycle is over.

The stock dipped 0.3 percent to end at $23.07, however, with the company forecasting current-quarter profit below Wall Street estimates and the broader stock market down slightly. The benchmark Standard & Poor’s index ended down 0.1 percent.

Additional reporting by Ann Saphir and Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Andrew Hay

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