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BUSINESS INVENTORIES Tuesday, Dec. 15, 10 a.m.

Inventories held by manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers probably fell a bit in October, say economists surveyed by McGraw-Hill Inc.'s mms International. If so, it would be only the third drop in stock levels this year, though inventories were unchanged in September. Factories have already reported a 0.1% decline in their October stockpiles. Business sales likely rose 0.2% in October, following a 1.3% surge in September.

HOUSING STARTS Wednesday, Dec. 16, 8:30 a.m.

The mms consensus expects that housing starts edged up to an annual rate of 1.25 million in November, from 1.23 million in October. However, weak new-home buying in October, higher mortgage rates, and a decline in construction jobs last month suggest that homebuilding may have declined in November. Even so, housing remains one of the economy's healthier sectors.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION Wednesday, Dec. 16, 9:15 a.m.

Output at the nation's factories, mines, and utilities should post a solid 0.6% gain for November, following a 0.3% rise in October. That's suggested by the increases in factory payrolls and workweek, especially in the auto industry. As a result, the mms report forecasts that the capacity-utilization rate for all industry rose to 78.8% in November, from 78.5% in October.

MERCHANDISE TRADE DEFICIT Thursday, Dec. 17, 8:30 a.m.

The foreign trade deficit probably widened only slightly in October, to $8.5 billion from $8.3 billion. The mms economists project that exports, which jumped 6.8% in September, fell back by about 1% in the following month. Imports were probably little changed in October, following a 4% increase. The trade deficit has widened by about $11 billion in the first nine months of 1992 compared with a year ago. The upturn in the U.S., coupled with hurting economies abroad, suggests that the trade gap will deteriorate further in 1993.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN

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