Economic Mood Improves

The index of leading U.S. economic indicators rose in September as stocks climbed and fewer Americans lost their jobs.

The Conference Board's index gained 0.3 percent, matching analysts' predictions, the New York-based group said today. The drop in August was revised to 0.8 percent, bigger than previously estimated. The measure points to the direction of the economy over the next three to six months.

The report reinforces forecasts by economists that the two- year housing slump will slow the economy without undoing the expansion that began in 2001. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index recorded its biggest September increase in almost a decade after the Federal Reserve was forced to cut interest rates in response to the previous month's credit-market rout.

``It isn't sending a message of impending economic collapse, but it's not a strong message either,'' said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York forecasting firm. ``We are going to see pretty painfully slow growth this quarter and next.'' Shapiro accurately forecast the increase.

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