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The Week Ahead


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THE WEEK AHEAD

INSTALLMENT CREDIT

Tuesday, Apr. 7, 3 p.m. EDT -- Consumers probably borrowed $4 billion more in new debt than they paid off in February. That's the median forecast by economists surveyed by Standard & Poor's MMS, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Household debt rose by just $2.9 billion in January. Installment-credit growth has slowed over the past year, led by a steep easing in revolving debt, which includes credit cards. Less borrowing, together with the strong gains in personal income, means that the ratio of installment debt outstanding to disposable income has dropped to 20.3% so far in the first quarter, down from a record 20.8% in October, 1996. Moreover, consumers are managing their debt loads better. According to the American Bankers Assn., the percentage of credit-card accounts that were delinquent 30 days or more fell to 3.04% in the fourth quarter, from a record 3.72% a year earlier.

PRODUCER PRICE INDEX

Thursday, Apr. 9, 8:30 a.m. EDT -- Producer prices for finished goods likely fell by 0.1% in March, says the S&P MMS median forecast. Plunging oil prices and pressure from cheaper imports likely offset expected increases in food prices and some other goods. Excluding food and energy, core prices were probably unchanged in March. In February, the total producer price index fell 0.1%, its fourth consecutive decline, while the core index increased 0.1%. Over the past year, the total PPI has fallen 1.7%, mostly because of dropping oil prices. The core index is virtually flat.

NEW UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Thursday, Apr. 9, 8:30 a.m. EDT -- Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits probably totaled about 310,000 for the week ended Apr. 4. Filings had declined to as low as 299,000 in the first week of March and then settled into the 310,000 range for the rest of the month. That's still a low level for jobless claims--and another indication of the extreme tightness in the labor markets.


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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