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The composite indexes of leading, coincident, and lagging indicators produced by The Conference Board are summary statistics for the U.S. economy. They are constructed by averaging their individual components in order to smooth out a good part of the volatility of the individual series.  Historically, the cyclical turning points in the leading index have occurred before those in aggregate economic activity, cyclical turning points in the coincident index have occurred at about the same time as those in aggregate economic activity, and cyclical turning points in the lagging index generally have occurred after those in aggregate economic activity.

Click on an item in the table below to read a short description of the component series
Leading Index
1. BCI-01 Average weekly hours, manufacturing
2. BCI-05 Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
3. BCI-08 Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods and materials
4.  BCI-32 Vendor performance, slower deliveries diffusion index
5.  BCI-27 Manufacturers' new orders, non-defense capital goods
6. BCI-29 Building permits, new private housing units
7.  BCI-19 Stock prices, 500 common stocks
8. BCI-106 Money supply, M2
9. BCI-129 Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
10. BCI-83 Index of consumer expectations
Coincident Index
1.  BCI-41 Employees on nonagricultural payrolls
2.  BCI-51 Personal income less transfer payments
3.  BCI-47 Industrial production
4.  BCI-57 Manufacturing and trade sales
Lagging Index
1. BCI-91 Average duration of unemployment
2. BCI-77 Inventories to sales ratio, manufacturing and trade
3. BCI-62 Labor cost per unit of output, manufacturing
4. BCI-109 Average prime rate
5. BCI-101 Commercial and industrial loans
6. BCI-95 Consumer installment credit to personal income ratio
7. BCI-120 Consumer price index for services

Related information


Leading index components

BCI-01 Average weekly hours, manufacturing  The average hours worked per week by production workers in manufacturing industries tend to lead the business cycle because employers usually adjust work hours before increasing or decreasing their workforce.

BCI-05 Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance  The number of new claims filed for unemployment insurance are typically more sensitive than either total employment or unemployment to overall business conditions, and this series tends to lead the business cycle. It is inverted when included in the leading index; the signs of the month-to-month changes are reversed, because initial claims increase when employment conditions worsen (i.e., layoffs rise and new hirings fall).

BCI-08 Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods and materials (in 1996 $)  These goods are primarily used by consumers. The inflation-adjusted value of new orders leads actual production because new orders directly affect the level of both unfilled orders and inventories that firms monitor when making production decisions. The Conference Board deflates the current dollar orders data using price indexes constructed from various sources at the industry level and a chain-weighted aggregate price index formula.

BCI-32 Vendor performance, slower deliveries diffusion index  This index measures the relative speed at which industrial companies receive deliveries from their suppliers. Slowdowns in deliveries increase this series and are most-often associated with increases in demand for manufacturing supplies (as opposed to a negative shock to supplies) and, therefore, tend to lead the business cycle. Vendor performance is based on a monthly survey conducted by the National Association of Purchasing Management (NAPM) that asks purchasing managers whether their suppliers’ deliveries have been faster, slower, or the same as the previous month. The slower-deliveries diffusion index counts the proportion of respondents reporting slower deliveries, plus one-half of the proportion reporting no change in delivery speed.

BCI-27 Manufacturers' new orders, non-defense capital goods (in 1996 $)  New orders received by manufacturers in non-defense capital goods industries (in inflation-adjusted dollars) are the producers’ counterpart to BCI-08.

BCI-29 Building permits, new private housing units  The number of residential building permits issued is an indicator of construction activity, which typically leads most other types of economic production.

BCI-19 Stock prices, 500 common stocks  The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index reflects the price movements of a broad selection of common stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Increases (decreases) of the stock index can reflect both the general sentiments of investors and the movements of interest rates, which is usually another good indicator for future economic activity.

BCI-106 Money supply (in 1996 $)  In inflation-adjusted dollars, this is the M2 version of the money supply. When the money supply does not keep pace with inflation, bank lending may fall in real terms, making it more difficult for the economy to expand. M2 includes currency, demand deposits, other checkable deposits, travelers checks, savings deposits, small denomination time deposits, and balances in money market mutual funds. The inflation adjustment is based on the implicit deflator for personal consumption expenditures.

BCI-129 Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds  The spread or difference between long and short rates is often called the yield curve. This series is constructed using the 10-year Treasury bond rate and the federal funds rate, an overnight interbank borrowing rate. It is felt to be an indicator of the stance of monetary policy and general financial conditions because it rises (falls) when short rates are relatively low (high). When it becomes negative (i.e., short rates are higher than long rates and the yield curve inverts) its record as an indicator of recessions is particularly strong.

BCI-83 Index of consumer expectations  This index reflects changes in consumer attitudes concerning future economic conditions and, therefore, is the only indicator in the leading index that is completely expectations-based. Data are collected in a monthly survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. Responses to the questions concerning various economic conditions are classified as positive, negative, or unchanged. The expectations series is derived from the responses to three questions relating to: (1) economic prospects for the respondent’s family over the next 12 months; (2) the economic prospects for the Nation over the next 12 months; and (3) the economic prospects for the Nation over the next five years.

Coincident index components

BCI-41 Employees on nonagricultural payrolls  This series from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is often referred to as "payroll employment." It includes full-time and part-time workers and does not distinguish between permanent and temporary employees. Because the changes in this series reflect the actual net hiring and firing of all but agricultural establishments and the smallest businesses in the nation, it is one of the most closely watched series for gauging the health of the economy.

BCI-51 Personal income less transfer payments (in 1996 $)  The value of the income received from all sources is stated in inflation-adjusted dollars to measure the real salaries and other earnings of all persons. This series excludes government transfers such as Social Security payments and includes an adjustment for wage accruals less disbursements (WALD) that smooth bonus payments (to more accurately reflect the level of income that wage earners would use to base their consumption decisions upon). Income levels are important because they help determine both aggregate spending the general health of the economy.

BCI-47 Index of industrial production  This index is based on value-added concepts and covers the physical output of all stages of production in the manufacturing, mining, and gas and electric utility industries. It is constructed from numerous sources that measure physical product counts, values of shipments, and employment levels. Although the value-added of the industrial sector is only a fraction of the total economy, this index has historically captured a majority of the fluctuations in total output.

BCI-57 Manufacturing and trade sales (in 1996 $)  Sales at the manufacturing, wholesale, and retail levels are invariably procyclical. This series is inflation-adjusted to represent real total spending. The data for this series are collected as part of the National Income and Product Account calculations, and the level of aggregate sales is always larger than GDP when annualized because some products and services are counted more than once (e.g. as intermediate goods or temporary additions to wholesale inventories and a retail sale).

Lagging index components

BCI-91 Average duration of unemployment  This series measures the average duration (in weeks) that individuals counted as unemployed have been out of work. Because this series tends to be higher during recessions and lower during expansions, it is inverted when it is included in the lagging index (i.e., the signs of the month-to-month changes are reversed). Decreases in the average duration of unemployment invariably occur after an expansion gains strength and the sharpest increases tend to occur after a recession has begun.

BCI-77 Ratio, manufacturing and trade inventories to sales (in 1996 $)  The ratio of inventories to sales is a popular gauge of business conditions for individual firms, entire industries, and the whole economy. This series is calculated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis using inventory and sales data for manufacturing, wholesale, and retail businesses (in inflation- and seasonally-adjusted form) based on data collected by the Bureau of the Census. Because inventories tend to increase when the economy slows and sales fail to meet projections, the ratio typically reaches its cyclical peaks in the middle of a recession. It also tends to decline at the beginning of an expansion as firms meet their sales demand from excess inventories.

BCI- 62 Change in labor cost per unit of output, manufacturing  This series measures the rate of change in an index that rises when labor costs for manufacturing firms rise faster than their production (and vice-versa). The index is constructed by The Conference Board from various components, including seasonally adjusted data on employee compensation in manufacturing (wages and salaries plus supplements) from the BEA, and seasonally adjusted data on industrial production in manufacturing from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Because monthly percent changes in this series are extremely erratic, percent changes in labor costs are calculated over a six-month span. Cyclical peaks in the six-month annualized rate of change typically occur during recessions, as output declines faster than labor costs despite layoffs of production workers. Troughs in the series are much more difficult to determine and characterize.

BCI-109 Average prime rate charged by banks  Although the prime rate is considered the benchmark that banks use to establish their interest rates for different types of loans, changes tend to lag behind the movements of general economic activities. The monthly data are compiled by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

BCI-101 Commercial and industrial loans outstanding (in 1996 $)  This series measures the volume of business loans held by banks and commercial paper issued by nonfinancial companies. The underlying data are compiled by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The Conference Board makes price level adjustments using the same deflator (based on Personal Consumption Expenditures data) used to deflate the money supply series in the leading index. The series tends to peak after an expansion peaks because declining profits usually increase the demand for loans. Troughs are typically seen more than a year after the recession ends. (Users should note that there is a major discontinuity in January 1988, due to a change in the source data; the composite index calculations are adjusted for this fact.)

BCI-95 Ratio, consumer installment credit outstanding to personal income  This series measures the relationship between consumer debt and income. Consumer installment credit outstanding is compiled by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and personal income data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Because consumers tend to hold off personal borrowing until months after a recession ends, this ratio typically shows a trough after personal income has risen for a year or longer. Lags between peaks in the ratio and peaks in the general economy are much more variable.

BCI-120 Change in Consumer Price Index for services.  This series is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it measures the rates of change in the services component of the Consumer Price Index. It is probable that because of recognition lags and other market rigidities, service sector inflation tends to increase in the initial months of a recession and to decrease in the initial months of an expansion.

Revised March 9, 2000