The Economic Planning Agency said Monday its key economic forecasting gauge for February stayed below the boom-or-bust line of 50 percent for the third straight month.

According to the latest report, the index of leading economic indicators is 42.9 percent.

The index of leading indicators is designed to forecast economic performance about three to six months down the road. The EPA says a reading of above 50 percent indicates economic expansion and a figure below 50 percent heralds contraction.

The index of coincident indicators — which measures the current state of the economy — stood at 50 percent for the second straight month. The index of lagging indicators, which gauges economic performance in the recent past, was at zero.

Meanwhile, EPA chief Taichi Sakaiya said Sunday that Japan’s jobless rate may worsen to 5.2 percent. “I think the jobless rate will continue to increase for the time being. There is a possibility of the rate going as high as 5.2 percent,” he said in a television program.

According to employment data released last week by the Management and Coordination Agency, Japan’s jobless rate rose 0.2 percentage point in February from the previous month to a record high of 4.6 percent, with the number of unemployed topping 3 million for the first time.

Sakaiya indicated the jobless rate tends to increase before the economy bottoms out, repeating a phrase he has used often, “It is darkest before the dawn.”

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