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Tuesday, May 18, 8:30 a.m.

Builders likely started construction in April on 1.2 million new homes, at an annual rate. That's the median forecast of economists surveyed by MMS International, a division of McGraw-Hill Inc. The expected April number would be the best starts level so far this year, even though rainy weather probably held back construction in some regions. Last month's increase would also be a bounce-back from March. During that month, the East Coast blizzard caused starts to tumble by 4.6%, to a 1.13 million pace. Low mortgage rates, plus stronger job and income growth and a low inventory of unsold new homes, suggest that the housing industry will enjoy a fairly good spring and summer.


Wednesday, May 19, 8:30 a.m.

The foreign trade deficit probably deteriorated in March, to $7.5 billion, from $7.2 billion in February. The March trade gap would be the largest deficit since October. The MMS economists forecast that exports of goods, which were virtually flat in February, rose very little in March. Imports, up just 0.2% in February, probably increased by a stronger amount in March. The U.S. outlook for foreign trade is not very rosy. Exports are hurting because of recessions around the globe, while the expansion here is drawing in more foreign goods.


Friday, May 21, 2 p.m.

The MMS economists expect that the federal government will report a surplus of only $9 billion in April. If so, that would be far below the $14 billion posted last April, or the $30 billion in April, 1991. Because May 1 was a Saturday, the government paid Social Security and other transfer payments in late April, and those early checks increased federal outlays for April. However, Washington's surplus may actually be higher than forecast because taxpayers delayed filing their income-tax returns this year until close to the Apr. 15 deadline. The fiscal 1993 deficit is on track to total about $300 billion.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN

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