A key gauge of future U.S. economic growth rose 0.1 percent in February, in line with expectations, suggesting a continuation of economic growth, the Conference Board (search) said Thursday.

The New York-based Conference Board, a private research firm, said its index of leading indicators (search) climbed last month to 115.6 after falling 0.3 percent in January.

"The leading index has increased in three of the last four months, making it likely that the upward trend has not ended. The current behavior of the leading index ... suggests the economy should continue to expand in the near term, but perhaps more slowly than its long-term average rate," the Board said in a statement.

"The leading index was on a rising trend from early 2003 to the middle of 2004, declined slightly for the next five months, and has now been increasing slightly since last October. In addition, there has been about an equal mix of strength and weakness among its components," it added.

The rise in February matched the 0.1 percent increase forecast by Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters.

Five of the 10 components of the leading indicators gauge increased, including an inverted measure of average weekly initial jobless claims (search), stock prices, real money supply, vendor performance and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials.

Four components fell, including average weekly manufacturing hours, interest rate spread, building permits and consumer expectations. Manufacturers' new orders for non-defense capital goods were unchanged.

The coincident index of current economic activity rose 0.4 percent in February. The index of lagging indicators, a measure of past economic activity, also rose 0.4 percent.