Of all the economic reports affecting Wall Street, only one strives to predict the future: the Conference Board's monthly index of leading...

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Of all the economic reports affecting Wall Street, only one strives to predict the future: the Conference Board’s monthly index of leading economic indicators.

Its 10 components, described in the adjacent table, are changed periodically to reflect the economy. Railcar loadings, for example, were removed in the early 1990s. “This is like taking the pulse or the blood pressure of the economy,” says Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein.

The index’s track record over the past 26 years has been pretty good. “What we’ve seen is that this thing turns down about 10 months ahead of the start of a decline, while in upswings, it seems to turn up just a couple months in advance,” says Scott Wren, equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons.

The index, out Wednesday, rose 0.1 percent for January — showing slow growth, but growth nonetheless.

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