The Week Ahead

      Wednesday, Feb. 19, 8:30 a.m.EST -- Consumer prices of all goods and services 
      probably increased by 0.3% in January, according to the median forecast of 
      economists surveyed by MMS International, one of The McGraw-Hill Cos. That's 
      the same considerable gain posted in December, but it mostly reflects higher 
      food and energy prices. Crude-oil prices, however, have started to head lower 
      in February, so prices of gas and heating oil may drop by spring. Excluding the 
      volatile food and energy sectors, core prices probably increased by 0.2% last 
      month, after edging up 0.1% in December. For all of 1996, total consumer prices 
      increased by 3.3%, the first time in six years that inflation picked up. Core 
      prices, however, rose just 2.6% in 1996. That annual gain equaled the 1994 rate 
      as the smallest inflation rate since 1965.
      Wednesday, Feb. 19, 8:30 a.m.EST -- The MMS survey expects that the trade 
      deficit for goods and services widened to about $9.5 billion in December, after 
      the gap narrowed sharply to $8 billion in October and $8.4 billion in November. 
      The Commerce Dept.'s numbers on foreign trade in the fourth quarter added more 
      than two percentage points to economic growth at yearend. In the first quarter, 
      however, trade usually becomes a drag on growth, probably reflecting inaccurate 
      seasonal adjustments. For December, exports, which rose to a record in 
      November, probably edged lower. Imports, up 0.8% in November, increased again 
      in December.
      Thursday, Feb. 20, 8:30 a.m.EST -- New home construction probably stood at an 
      annual rate of 1.4 million in January, says the MMS median forecast. That would 
      be 5% above the 1.33 million started in December, but about even with the 
      average of the entire fourth quarter. Cold weather and flooding probably 
      dragged down December building activity. Starts in the West plunged 29% for the 

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