updated 9/21/2006 10:26:16 AM ET 2006-09-21T14:26:16

A closely watched gauge of future economic activity slipped in August for the second consecutive month, suggesting that the U.S. economy is cooling.

Major Market Indices

The Conference Board, an industry-backed research group, said Thursday its Index of Leading Economic Indicators edged 0.2 percent lower to 137.6 last month. The decline matched analysts’ expectations. The index also fell 0.2 percent in July after edging up 0.1 percent in June.

The index is designed to predict economic activity three to six months in the future.

The report offers another indication that U.S. economic growth will slow in the coming months.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve held the key interest rate steady at 5.25 percent, indicating that slowing economic activity will gradually ease inflation.

Americans have been hit with a declining housing market, but also have seen relief in their fuel bills recently as crude-oil prices have plunged more than 20 percent from record highs earlier in the summer.

The release of the leading indicators followed a government report earlier Thursday that the number of newly laid-off workers filing for unemployment benefits rose last week by the largest amount since early August. The Labor Department said that 318,000 workers filed claims for jobless benefits, up by 7,000 from the 311,000 benefit applications filed the previous week.

On Wall Street, stocks prices slipped. The Dow industrials fell 14.88 to 11,598.31 by midmorning, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1.31 to 1,323.87, and the Nasdaq Stock Market lost 4.26 to 2,248.63.

The Conference Board’s index of coincident indicators, which measure current economic activity, rose by 0.1 percent in August to 123.3, while its index of lagging indicators, which measure past performance, rose by 0.3 percent to 124.2.

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