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Friday February 23, 2001

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Leading indicators index rises 0.8 percent

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK - A key gauge of U.S. economic activity rose 0.8 percent in January, bouncing back after three consecutive monthly declines but not enough to ease analysts' doubts about the economy.

The New York-based Conference Board said its Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose to 109.4 last month.

"With the 0.8 percent rise in January, the overall signal remains one of moderation in the pace of economic activity, with no recession looming on the horizon," said Ken Goldstein, economist for the Conference Board.

Nevertheless, some analysts expressed concerns that the economy could be headed for a recession.

"We're dancing with recession. It's very close. The economy threatens to stall out completely, and if the stock market continues to head down and take consumer confidence with it, the possibility of recession rises significantly," said economist Mark Zandi, of in West Chester, Pa.

Economist Mark Vitner also played down the importance of the increase in the index, calling it a temporary bounce in an economy that remains unsettled.

"I don't think that it marks the all-clear signal for the economy," said Vitner, vice president of First Union Corp.

"I don't think that the good news in this report is going to carry over into coming months," he added.

In a separate report released yesterday, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 4,000 last week after declining the week before, the Labor department said.