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FEDERAL BUDGET Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2 p.m.

The U. S. government will probably post a deficit of $38.1 billion for July, according to economists surveyed by MMS International, a unit of McGraw-Hill Inc. That gap would be much larger than the $25.9 billion red-ink total of July, 1990. Slower tax receipts--a casualty of the recession--are widening the federal deficit. The White House estimates that the deficit will hit a record $282 billion in fiscal 1991, which ends on Sept. 30.

INITIAL UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS Thursday, Aug. 22, 8:30 a.m.

New filings for state unemployment insurance benefits are likely to stand at an annual rate of about 400,000 for the week ended Aug. 10, the same level as at the end of July. Claims peaked in March and have come down by almost 140,000 since then, as the economy struggles to recover. In recent weeks, claims have risen because some auto workers have been laid off temporarily, as factories switch over to new models.

DURABLE GOODS ORDERS Friday, Aug. 23, 8:30 a.m.

New orders placed with durable goods manufacturers likely rose by 1.3% in July, says the MMS consensus. That's suggested by the pickup in auto production and by a positive reading in the July order index compiled by the National Association of Purchasing Management. The expected gain would reverse the 1.4% decline in orders in June. Even so, the backlog of unfilled orders probably dropped in July, the sixth consecutive drawdown in unfilled demand. In June, the backlog slid by 1.1%.

CAR SALES Friday, Aug. 23, 5 p.m.

New domestically made cars likely sold at an annual rate of about 6.5 million during the middle 10 days of August. This pace is a bit better than the 6.2 million pace of early August. In July, U. S.-made cars sold at a respectable 6.8 million rate--the highest pace since October. Some consumers may buy in August to beat the price increases announced for many 1992 car models.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN

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