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Leading indicators rise 1 percent in December

NEW YORK — A private research group says its gauge of future economic activity rose in December, suggesting the economy will strengthen over the next few months.

The Conference Board says its index of leading economic indicators rose 1 percent last month after a 1.1 percent increase in November. Those are the biggest increases since March, when the index jumped 1.4 percent.

Economists polled by FactSet had expected a lower reading of 0.6 percent for December.

The measure had stalled this summer as Europe’s debt crisis and a weak jobs market hit U.S. stocks. It began accelerating at the end of 2010 as the country’s economic condition improved. The stock market has rallied, the manufacturing sector continues to grow and consumers and businesses are spending more.