INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION Tuesday, Feb. 17, 9:15 a.m. EST -- Output at the nation's factories, mines, and utilities probably rose 0.3% in January, says the median forecast of economists surveyed by MMS International, one of The McGraw-Hill Companies. That's suggested by January's solid gain in factory jobs and high level of overtime. The average operating rate for all industry likely slipped to 83.3%, from December's 83.4%. Industrial production grew at an annual rate of 7.4% in the fourth quarter, the largest rise in 1 1/2 years. PRODUCER PRICE INDEX Wednesday, Feb. 18, 8:30 a.m. EST -- Producer prices for finished goods likely fell 0.2% in January, led by a plunge in oil prices, as well as cheaper imports. Producer prices dropped by 0.2% in both November and December, in large part because of cheaper energy costs. Excluding food and fuel, core producer prices were likely unchanged in January after falling 0.1% in December, says the MMS median forecast. HOUSING STARTS Wednesday, Feb. 18, 8:30 a.m. EST -- Housing starts in January were probably unchanged from December's annual rate of 1.52 million. Temperate weather in parts of the nation enabled builders to break ground on new projects. Housing enjoyed one of its best years in 1997, and the current low mortgage rates and healthy consumer fundamentals suggest that activity will not fall by much in 1998. INTERNATIONAL TRADE Thursday, Feb. 19, 8:30 a.m. EST -- The MMS survey forecasts that the foreign trade deficit for goods and services widened to $9.5 billion in December, from $8 billion in November. Exports, which dropped 1.3% in November, probably fell again in December. Imports, which declined a large 2.3%, likely bounced back in December. A narrowing in the trade gap added significantly to economic growth in the fourth quarter, but trade is likely reversing course now, putting a drag on first-quarter growth.
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