The government's chief economic forecasting gauge fell in October for the fourth straight month, the government said Friday, signaling a recession that many economists believe already is under way.

The 1.2 percent plunge in the Commerce Department's Index of Leading Economic Indicators was the latest in a string of gloomy reports on the economy.Eight of the 11 forward-looking components in the index fell. In addition, the department said, the index actually dropped 0.1 percent in July rather than remaining unchanged as first reported.

Three consecutive declines in the index have been viewed as a fairly reliable - although not infallible - sign that a recession is approaching.

Pulling the index down were a drop in consumer confidence, an increase in weekly unemployment claims, a decline in the average workweek, a drop in building permits, a decline in the money supply, falling stock prices, a decrease in the price of raw materials, and faster business delivery times.

The only positive contributors were increases in orders for consumer goods, orders for new plants and equipment and in unfilled orders.