The U.S. economy is gathering steam as the year draws to a close, according to a private industry group's index of economic indicators published on Friday.

The Conference Board's measure of leading economic indicators jumped 1.1 percent in November, the biggest rise since March and the fifth straight monthly gain.

The increase in the LEI matched forecasts in a Reuters poll. The index's level is now at a record high of 112.4, the research group said.

It was the latest evidence of steady, if fragile, improvement in the country's growth prospects after a summer lull. Retail sales in particular have been surprisingly strong, raising hopes for consumer spending.

The U.S. economy is showing some sparks of life in late 2010, said Ken Goldstein, an economist at The Conference Board. The indicators point to a mild pickup after a slow winter. Looking further out, possible clouds on the medium term horizon include weakness in housing and employment.

U.S. gross domestic product grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, but that was not enough to bring down the jobless rate, which rose to 9.8 percent in November.

(Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Neil Stempleman)