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Originally published Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 7:23 AM

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Gauge of US economy rose 0.3 percent in March

A measure of future U.S. economic activity rose in March for the sixth straight month, a sign that the economy may be gaining momentum.

AP Economics Writer

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WASHINGTON —

A measure of future U.S. economic activity rose in March for the sixth straight month, a sign that the economy may be gaining momentum.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent in March, after a 0.7 percent increase in the previous month. The index now stands at 95.7, the highest level since June 2008. Before the recession began in December 2007, it routinely topped 100.

The rise comes even as other indicators released Thursday suggest the economy could be slowing. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week but remained higher than it has been in recent weeks. And Americans bought fewer previously owned homes in March, a separate report said, a reminder that the housing market remains weak.

"Despite relatively weak data on jobs, home building and output in the past month or two, the indicators signal continued economic momentum," said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board.

The index is designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out. Most of the data had been previously released in separate reports.

Seven of the 10 indicators covered by the index increased last month. The biggest drivers of growth were: the spread between short-term and long-term interest rates, building permits, rising stock prices and credit availability.

The three indicators that limited the rise in the index were average weekly hours worked by manufacturing employees, consumer expectations for business conditions and the Institute for Supply Management's measure of manufacturers' new orders.

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