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The government said Thursday that its key gauge of the state of the economy fell below the boom-or-bust line of 50 percent in February for the first time in three months.

The index of coincident indicators, designed to measure the current state of the economy, came to 14.3 percent in February, compared with 50 percent in January, the Cabinet Office said in a preliminary report.

According to government officials, a reading of below 50 percent is considered a sign of economic contraction and a figure above that is viewed as a sign of expansion.

The Cabinet Office also said the index of leading economic indicators, a measure of economic growth six to nine months ahead, fell to 42.9 percent in February, slipping below 50 percent for the second straight month. The index was 44.4 percent in January.

The lagging index, which gauges performance in the recent past, was 58.3 percent in the latest reporting month, staying above 50 percent for the third consecutive month.

The diffusion indexes of the coincident, leading and lagging indicators compare the current levels of various economic indicators with their levels three months earlier.

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