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How the experts expect US economy to fare in months ahead

Some 1,000 or so company executives, money managers, and others pay $266 a year to get a 16-page newsletter once each month providing the so-called ''economic consensus.''

They evidently figure its worth the cost. We have an excellent renewal rate, '' says Richard M. Hagan, executive editor of the firm that handles Blue Chip Economic Indicators (Sedona, Ariz. 86336).

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Businessmen and investors want to know where the economy is heading. It can help in their financial planning, either individually or corporately. If economists can accurately indicate the direction of interest rates, for instance , anyone thinking of buying bonds could do so immediately, or wait, depending on whether rates are going down or up.

The newsletter is compiled by economist Robert J. Eggert after talking with some 40 leading business economists. Their consensus forecast over the last five years, notes Mr. Eggert -- ''with cautious pride'' -- has proved ''better than my initial expectations.'' Their average forecast had an average annual error of 0.5 percent for real gross national product (the nation's total output of goods and services after removal of the impact of inflation) and 0.6 percent for inflation (as measured by the broadest index, the GNP deflator).

Here's the current consensus forecast, compiled earlier this month:

The recession: Rough but short. Almost all of the surveyed economists expect a mild recovery in the last half of the year. But the recovery will be sufficient to push real GNP in 1982 up a miserly 0.3 percent over 1981, they predict. They expect output to decline this quarter, move up slightly next quarter, and register clear-cut gains in the last half.

The group's initial look at 1983 forecasts a 4.1 percent gain over a sluggish 1982.

The large econometric forecasting services -- those employing mathematical models and computers to make their predictions -- form part of the consensus and do not differ much in their outlook from the consensus (see accompanying tables).

Inflation: ''The good news continues.'' Both the GNP deflator and the consumer price index are expected to drift downward in 1982 and 1983. The GNP deflator, says the consensus, will rise 7.7 percent this year and the CPI 7.8 percent.

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Interest rates: Interest rates - both short and long term - are forecast to move downward, with some up and down intermittent shifts. Treasury bills, for instance, are expected to average a return of 10.8 percent this year; Aaa industrial bonds, 13.4 percent.

Unemployment: The consensus for the number of jobless moved up sharply this month. The plus-40 economists now expect, on average, the unemployment rate this year to run 8.6 percent of the labor force.

Housing starts: A slow recovery to 1.26 million starts.

Auto sales: Total sales, including imports, will grow from 8.5 million in 1981 to 9.2 million this year, the forecasters figure. That would be an improvement, but still a poor year.

Stock prices: In six months, the economists guess, stock prices as measured by the Dow Jones industrial average will be at 950; in 12 months at 1030; and in 18 months, 1085. There's still hope, comments Mr. Eggert. The range for the 12 -month forecast among the 37 who dared to predict was from a low of 875 to a high of 1150.

Federal deficit: In fiscal year 1981, ending at the end of last September, the deficit was $54.1 billion. The consensus forecast puts the deficit this fiscal year at $92 billion and for fiscal 1983 at $94 billion. Federal government borrowing (including direct Treasury, federally sponsored enterprises , and guaranteed loans) is expected to grow from $154.5 billion in fiscal 1981 to $172 billion this fiscal year and $171 billion in fiscal 1983.

Net national savings: Preliminary figures put them at $196 billion in 1981. The Blue Chip consensus forecasts them at $219 billion this year, up 12 percent, and $256 billion next year, up 17 percent.

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