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The Week Ahead


Business Outlook

THE WEEK AHEAD

HOUSING STARTS

Tuesday, Mar. 16, 8:30 a.m.

Housing starts probably bounced back to an annual rate of 1.23 million in February, after dropping 7.2% in January, to a 1.19 million pace. That is the median forecast of economists surveyed by MMS International, a division of McGraw-Hill Inc. The rebound is suggested by the continued decline in mortgage interest rates and an increase in construction jobs in February.

CONSUMER PRICE INDEX

Wednesday, Mar. 17, 8:30 a.m.

Consumer prices likely rose by a modest 0.3% in February. If so, that would calm inflation fears that perked up after the CPI posted a 0.5% increase in January. One-time jumps in the price of tobacco products and airfares contributed to that burst of inflation. In general, price hikes remain subdued.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

Wednesday, Mar. 17, 9:15 a.m.

Output at the nation's factories, mines, and utilities probably rose by 0.3% in February, after a 0.5% advance in January. That's suggested by increases in factory jobs and worktime, plus a positive reading on industrial activity from the National Association of Purchasing Management. The MMS survey also forecasts that the capacity utilization rate for all industry probably rose to 79.6% last month, from 79.5% in January.

MERCHANDISE TRADE DEFICIT

Thursday, Mar. 18, 8:30 a.m.

The foreign-trade deficit likely widened to about $7.2 billion in January, from $7 billion in December. The MMS economists project that exports fell back to $39 billion after jumping 4% in December, to $39.7 billion. Imports, which rose to $46.7 billion in December, probably fell slightly, to $46.2 billion in January.

FEDERAL BUDGET

Friday, Mar. 19, 2 p.m.

The MMS survey calls for the U.S. Treasury to post a $49.5 billion deficit in February, about the same deficit level as in February, 1992. The federal government had a $29.8 billion surplus in January.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN


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