Economic Reports Point to Expansion

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A raft of statistics reported Monday, including a modest 0.5 percent increase in Americans' personal income in January, pointed to a moderate and sustained economic expansion this year.

Incomes increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $5.22 trillion, building on a strong 1 percent advance in December, the Commerce Department said. Consumer spending rose 0.3 percent to an annual rate of $4.23 trillion, the fifth increase in a row.

"Even though this report isn't a barn-burner, I'm taking heart from it. After a huge surge in December, I'm happy that (income and spending) didn't fall," said economist Robert F. Wescott of the WEFA Group, a Philadelphia-based forecasting service.

According to other reports: The nation's manufacturing economy continued to expand in February but at a slightly slower pace than the previous month, according to the National Association of Purchasing Management. The gain was broad-based, with 16 of 20 industries reporting growth. Sales of existing homes fell 6.4 percent to an annual rate of 3.78 million in January, the National Association of Realtors said. Analysts said the decline was simply a retreat from the unsustainably high level reached in December after four consecutive monthly increases. Construction spending in January declined 1.3 percent, the first drop in five months, the Commerce Department said. Declines in government and commercial projects offset an increase in residential construction. The nation's merchandise trade deficit narrowed 6 percent in the October-December quarter to 26 billion. Nevertheless, the deficit for all of 1992, $96.3 billion, was 31 percent higher than last year. It was the first year-to-year increase in five years.

Economists said the reports fit with their view that the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced in the United States, probably will expand 3 percent to 3. …