U.S. econonmic gauge suggests steady growth

WASHINGTON - A measure of the economy's health rose modestly in December, suggesting that growth will remain steady early this year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.1 percent last month. That's down from a 1 percent gain in November, the month after a partial 16-day shutdown of the federal government.

 The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months. The surge in stock prices helped lift the index last month.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with Pantheon Macroeconmics said in a research note that the underlying trend in the Conference Board index is increasing "at a reasonably robust pace, consistent with GDP growth of 3 percent or more."

Worries about upcoming budget battles in Washington could cause businesses and consumers to curb their spending. But Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said a "better-than-expected holiday season might point to sustained stronger demand and could put the U.S. on a faster growth track in 2014."