Measure of US Economy’s Health Rose in July

WASHINGTON (AP) -

A gauge of the U.S. economy’s health rose in July, pointing to stronger growth in the second half of the year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.6 percent last month, to a reading of 96.0. The increase followed no change in June and a 0.2 percent increase in May.

The index from the business research group is comprised of several previously released data points, and can signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

The solid gain suggests economic growth is picking up after a weak start. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent from January through June. Many economists expect growth could improve to a 2.5 percent rate in the second half of 2013.

The pace of growth measured by the index over the last six months has nearly doubled, “pointing to a gradually strengthening expansion through the end of the year,” said Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim.

Eight of the 10 components of the index were positive in July. Higher stock prices, more requests for building permits and a decline in weekly applications for unemployment benefits made the biggest contributions. The only measures to show decreases: average manufacturing workweek and orders for manufactured goods that signal business investment plans.