INSTALLMENT CREDIT Monday, Apr. 7, 3 p.m.EDT -- Consumers likely added $7 billion in credit in February, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by MMS International, one of The McGraw-Hill Companies. After borrowing slowed in late 1996, credit use has bounced back. In January, credit increased by $8.4 billion. Revolving debt alone, which includes credit cards, surged by $7.9 billion, rising at its fastest pace in more than a year. The advance reflects the rebound in consumer spending. UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS Thursday, Apr. 10, 8:30 a.m.EDT -- New claims for state unemployment benefits probably stood at 320,000 for the week ended Apr. 5. Jobless claims have dropped sharply since the end of 1996, evidence of the greater availability of jobs. In the middle of March, the four-week moving average stood at 311,000, the lowest reading in this expansion. PRODUCER PRICE INDEX Friday, Apr. 11, 8:30 a.m.EDT -- The MMS median forecast expects that producer prices of finished goods were unchanged in March. If so, it is just another sign that wholesale inflation is nonexistent: The PPI dropped 0.3% in January and 0.4% in February. Falling food and energy prices contributed to the declines. Excluding food and energy, core prices probably edged up just 0.1% in March, after slipping by 0.1% in February. RETAIL SALES Friday, Apr. 11, 8:30 a.m.EDT -- Retail sales likely rose a healthy 0.5% in March. That would follow sales jumps of 1.5% in January and 0.8% in February. Given the retailing data, real consumer spending probably grew at an annual rate of close to 5% in the first quarter. The March gain is suggested by increases in the BTM/Schroders chain-store sales index and the weekly survey done by LJR Redbook Research. In addition, an early Easter probably pulled apparel sales forward from April into March.
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