The Week Ahead

      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.
      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.
      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 
      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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