Gauge of US economy posts slight 0.2 percent gain in January, smallest increase in 5 months

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WASHINGTON — An index designed to predict the future health of the U.S. economy rose in January by the smallest amount in five months, indicating the economy's momentum may have slowed a bit.

The New York-based Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading indicators increased 0.2 percent in January, the weakest gain since a 0.1 percent rise in August. In addition, the December increase was revised lower to a 0.4 percent rise instead of the initially reported 0.5 percent increase.

The pace of growth in the index has moderated in recent months from gains of 0.6 percent in both September and October to smaller increases since that time.

"While the LEI suggests a positive short-term outlook in 2015, the lack of strong momentum in residential construction, along with a weak outlook for new orders in manufacturing, poses a downside risk for the U.S. economy," said Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim.

Five of the 10 forward-pointing indicators that make up the index made positive contributions in January with the largest boost coming from low interest rates and consumer expectations for business conditions. Four indicators were negative in January with the biggest weakness coming from the new orders index compiled by the Institute for Supply Management and a drop in stock prices.

Overall economic growth slowed to a 2.6 percent annual rate in the final three months of 2014 after gains of 4.5 percent in the spring quarter and 5 percent in the July-September period. Many economists say the economy is growing at a moderate pace of around 2.5 percent in the current January-March quarter.

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