The Week Ahead

HOUSING STARTS Tuesday, Mar. 19, 8:30 a.m.EST -- Housing starts probably fell 
      back to an annual rate of 1.4 million in February, according to the median 
      forecast of economists surveyed by MMS International, one of The McGraw-Hill 
      Companies. Starts posted an unexpected gain in January, rising 4.4%, to a 1.45 
      million pace. The recent rise in mortgage rates may begin to hold back housing. 
      However, the 4.2% rise in new homes in January suggests buyers may have rushed 
      in early 1996 to lock in lower rates.
      RETAIL SALES Wednesday, Mar. 20, 8:30 a.m.EST -- Retail sales likely increased 
      a solid 0.9% in February, says the revised MMS forecast. That's suggested by 
      the steep advance in motor vehicle sales and increases reported in the weekly 
      surveys of other retailers. Excluding cars, sales probably rose 0.5% last 
      month. In January, the blizzard kept many shoppers at home: Total sales fell 
      0.3% while nonauto receipts were flat.
      BUSINESS INVENTORIES Thursday, Mar. 21, 10 a.m.EST -- Inventories at 
      manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers likely increased by 0.4% in January, 
      after falling 0.5% in December. Factories have already reported a 0.7% gain in 
      their stock levels, in part because the blizzard prevented goods from being 
      shipped out. Business sales probably fell 0.8% in January, reversing the 1% 
      gain in December. Factory sales were down 0.9% in January, and retail sales 
      FEDERAL BUDGET Thursday, Mar. 21, 2 p.m.EST -- The Treasury Dept. is expected 
      to report a $45 billion deficit for February, forecasts the MMS report. That's 
      bigger than the $38.4 billion recorded in February, 1995. But the federal 
      government is playing catch-up in its outlays after the second shutdown kept 
      workers at home. Also, tax refunds are trailing behind 1995`s pace. Still, the 
      federal budget is on track to total about $150 billion in this fiscal year.

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