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Leading economic indicators slipped in Dec.

/ Source: The Associated Press

A gauge of future economic activity skidded 0.2 percent in December, registering its third consecutive monthly decline and signaling that the U.S. economy likely will weaken further in coming months.

The Conference Board said Friday that its index of leading indicators fell to 136.5 last month after declining a revised 0.4 percent to 136.8 in November and 0.7 percent to 137.3 in October.

The December drop was slightly more than the 0.1 percent decline expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/IFR.

The index is watched as an indicator of where the U.S. economy is headed in the next three to six months.

Ken Goldstein, labor economist at the Conference Board said in a statement that "the latest data suggest that growth could remain slow — and possibly be even a little slower — in the first half of 2008."

Some economists believe that the credit crunch and troubled housing market already have thrown the U.S. economy into recession. On Thursday, President Bush and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke promised measures to try to stimulate economic growth.

The components most affecting the December index reading were building permits and average working hours in manufacturing, according to the Conference Board, which is a New York-based business group.

It noted that the index "has weakened sharply since mid-2007."