This particular set of indicators
is compiled based on aggregating state data, in contrast with other methodologies that use national numbers. The message in the Philly Fed's leading index for the U.S. is that the economy overall will continue to expand. The Conference Board's leading indicator also anticipates continued growth.
If expecting the expansion to roll on is overly optimistic and there's a recession approaching, we should expect to see the leading indices tumble sharply in the next several months. Some analysts are warning of no less, in part based on the slowdown in job growth and industrial production in March.
But a slowdown in the rate of growth isn't a recession. With only six full months left before the election, the President can take some comfort from the fact that the overall economy is still growing, according to the broad sweep of economic data available. The American economy isn't likely to suffer another 2008-style sudden lurch downward without a dramatic shock, such as a new war with Iran that sends oil prices sharply and suddenly higher, or a new and dangerous phase in the euro crisis.
As for the U.S. economy, there's still a fair amount of forward momentum to keep a recession at bay for the foreseeable future. Some economists think otherwise, but that's a speculative view. If you're looking for a high-confidence prediction on the major turning points in the business cycle, there's a strong case for arguing that the best we can do is identifying new recessions early on in the process. In other words, once a recession has started, it'll be relatively conspicuous in the data. By that standard, it's highly unlikely that the National Bureau of Economic Research will eventually designate March 2012 as the start of a new recession. As for April, there's limited data to say much of anything at this point; beyond that, well, good luck.
Still, the recovery is starting to look vulnerable, relative to the three months through February. Is that a sign of deeper trouble? Maybe, but if it is we'll soon see confirmation in the numbers. For now, however, there's only guesses, and the bias for growth, although modest, continues to have the upper hand.