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The Week Ahead


Business Outlook

THE WEEK AHEAD

NEW SINGLE-FAMILY HOME SALES Monday, Mar. 4, 10 a.m.

New-home sales likely fell to an annual rate of 450,000 in January, after dropping by 6.7% in December to a 463,000 clip, say economists polled by McGraw-Hill Inc.'s MMS International unit. The decline is suggested by the plunge in housing starts and the dip in consumer confidence in January. Also, tighter banking requirements are making it tougher for buyers, especially first-time purchasers, to qualify for mortgages.

FACTORY INVENTORIES Tuesday, Mar. 5, 10 a.m.

Manufacturers probably pared inventories by about 0.2% in January to keep stockpiles more in line with sagging demand. In December, factory inventories were cut by 0.8%--the largest monthly decline in five years. Factory orders probably fell by about 1% in January, after no change in December. Durable goods makers have already reported a 0.7% drop for the month.

INSTALLMENT CREDIT Thursday, Mar. 7

The MMS economists expect that consumer credit showed little change in January. In December, debt fell by $1.4 billion, the first drop since early 1989. Auto financing has been sluggish since last spring, the result of weak car sales. But now, consumers are cutting their use of revolving debt, including credit cards, in an attempt to bolster household balance sheets. In December, revolving credit dropped by $1.2 billion.

EMPLOYMENT Friday, Mar. 8, 8:30 a.m.

Nonfarm payrolls likely dropped by 100,000 jobs in February, according to the MMS survey. But even the most optimistic forecaster expects only a paltry gain of about 25,000. That doesn't begin to offset the 232,000 jobs lost in January or the million workers laid off since last June. The MMS economists also expect that the unemployment rate edged up to 6.4% last month, from 6.2% in January. And the high level of new claims for jobless benefits suggests that the rate will rise further in coming months.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN


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