The index of U.S. leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent in March, extending its upward trend for a sixth month. Thursday's data points to a more positive outlook despite subdued consumer expectations and weakness in new manufacturing orders.

The Conference Board said its leading index rose 0.3 percent last month after a 0.7 percent gain in February. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters called for a smaller increase of 0.2 percent.

Despite relatively weak data on jobs, home building and output in the past month or two, the indicators signal continued economic momentum, Ken Goldstein, economist at the Conference Board, said in a statement. We expect a gradual improvement in growth past the summer months.

Among the 10 indicators that make up the LEI, seven made positive contributions in March, led by interest rate spreads, building permits and share prices. The biggest negative was the average factory workweek.

The coincident index was up 0.2 percent last month, after an unrevised gain of 0.2 percent in February, suggesting current conditions continue to improve. The lagging index increased 0.3 percent, after a revised 0.1 percent advance first reported as 0.2 percent.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department reported more people than expected filed for unemployment benefits in the week ended April 14, which also happens to coincide with the April payroll employment survey week, echoing the International Monetary Fund's view that job creation this year and next will be modest at best.

Applications for unemployment insurance payments decreased by 2,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 388,000, to 386,000, according to data from the Labor Department issued Thursday in Washington. The level of claims, however, was above market expectations for a 370,000 reading.

The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets, was 374,750, an increase of 5,500 from the previous week's upwardly revised average of 369,250 for first-time benefit applicants.

The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid increased by 26,000, to 3.30 million in the week ended April 7. The continuing claims figure doesn't include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

The four-week moving average for the week ended April 7 fell 21,500 to 3.32 million from the preceding week's revised average of 3.34 million.