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updated: 2/20/2014 11:17 AM

Gauge of U.S. economy's health up 0.3 percent

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A measure of the U.S. economy's health posted a moderate gain in January, suggesting that the economy will continue to expand in the first half of this year.

The Conference Board reported Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.3 percent last month following no change in December and a solid 0.9 percent increase in November. The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

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Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said the January advance reflects an economy that is expanding moderately. But he said growth was held back over the past two months by severe winter weather in many parts of the country.

"If the economy is going to move on to a faster track in 2014 compared to last year, consumer demand and especially investment will need to pick up significantly from their current trends," Goldstein said.

The advance in January was aided by fewer applications for unemployment benefits and strength in financial indicators. This strength offset weakness from a decrease in applications for building permits and fewer hours worked in manufacturing.

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