Leading economic index at record high in March

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A gauge of the U.S. economy’s prospects rose more strongly than expected to a record high in March, pointing to a steady economic recovery, a private research group said on Monday.

The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators increased 1.4 percent, rising for the 12th straight month, after an upwardly revised 0.4 percent gain in February.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 1.0 percent rise in March from a previously reported 0.1 percent gain.

U.S. stocks held slim gains after the report, while Treasury debt prices and the U.S. dollar were little changed.

“The indicators point to a slow recovery that should continue over the next few months. The leading, coincident and lagging series are rising. Strength in demand remains the big question going forward,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board.

Seven of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index rose last month, with the interest rate spread, average weekly manufacturing hours and stock market prices making the largest contributions.

The drag on the index came from the real money supply, manufacturers’ new orders for nondefense capital goods and consumer expectations.

The coincident index, which measures current economic conditions, edged up 0.1 percent in March after a 0.1 percent gain the prior month. The lagging index rose 0.2 percent after a 0.1 percent increase in February.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci