The Week Ahead

HOUSING STARTS Tuesday, Mar. 17, 8:30 a.m.

Housing starts probably edged up to an annual rate of 1.18 million in

February, say economists polled by McGraw-Hill Inc.'s MMS International.

Homebuilding jumped 5.5% in January, to a 1.17 million pace. Most of that

increase was in the construction of multifamily housing, although most regions

have an oversupply of apartment space. Any gain in February starts will be in

single-family homes.

CONSUMER PRICE INDEX Tuesday, Mar. 17, 8:30 a.m.

Total consumer prices likely increased by 0.3% in February, say the MMS

economists. Prices rose only 0.1% in January, mostly because of falling energy prices. Prices excluding food and fuel probably also rose by 0.3% in February, the same modest gain as in January. Over the past year, prices have increased by just 2.7% for all goods, and by 3.9% excluding food and energy.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION Tuesday Mar. 17, 9:15 a.m.

Output at the nation's factories, mines, and utilities likely advanced by a

sharp 0.6% in February. Production dropped in each of the three previous

months, including a 0.8% drop in January. The February bounceback is indicated

by the 0.9% jump in total hours worked in the factory sector. The expected

strong rise in output suggests that the capacity-utilization rate for all

industry rose to 78.4% in February, from 78% in January.

MERCHANDISE TRADE DEFICIT Thursday, Mar. 19, 8:30 a.m.

The trade deficit probably narrowed to $5.4 billion in January, from $5.9 billion in December, say the MMS economists. Exports, which fell in November and December, likely rose in January. And imports, up 2.3% in December, probably declined in the following month.

FEDERAL BUDGET Friday, Mar. 20, 2:15 p.m.

The federal government will probably post a $45 billion deficit for February. If so, that would be almost twice the $26 billion gap of February, 1991.

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