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The Week Ahead


Wednesday, Mar. 24, 8:30 a.m. EST -- New orders taken by durable-goods manufacturers probably fell by about 1.5% in February, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Standard & Poor's MMS, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. At the same time, unfilled orders were likely unchanged in February, after increasing 1.6% in January. The expected drop in new orders follows a 3.6% jump in January, led by a huge gain in the volatile aircraft sector. Even excluding planes, bookings for capital goods have remained quite strong, although some economists have expected a slowdown in business spending, especially for high-tech equipment. So far, the evidence is slight. Business spending on equipment rose at an annual rate of 19.2% in the fourth quarter. High-tech spending rose 24%.UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Thursday, Mar. 25, 8:30 a.m. EST -- New claims for state unemployment benefits filed during the week ended Mar. 20 probably remained well below the 300,000 mark, although bad weather may have raised claims in the Midwest and Plains states. Jobless claims have been running below 300,000 since the end of January, a sign of extremely tight labor markets. The four-week moving average is at a 10-year low. Analysts are looking for an upward trend in claims as the first sign that labor markets are loosening.EXISTING HOME SALES

Thursday, Mar. 25, 10 a.m. EST -- Existing houses probably sold at an annual rate of 4.95 million in February, says the S&P MMS forecast. The expected sales rate would be down from the record 5.07 million homes sold in January. Solid income and job gains, coupled with still-low mortgage rates, have kept housing demand quite strong into early 1999. Mild weather in January and February also helped. Still, demographics argue that house sales in 1999 will not repeat the record pace of 1998, when 4.8 million existing homes changed hands.

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