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CHIEF ECONOMIC GAUGE FELL 1 PERCENT IN FEBRUARY, REPORT SAYS

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The government's chief economic forecasting gauge fell 1.0 percent in February, the Commerce Department reports, but analysts said it would have changed little except for a drop in building permits.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators, designed to forecast economic activity six to nine months in advance, had risen the previous three months.But because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the index's building permit component, many analysts expressed skepticism in advance of the February report.

The analysts said this week's index would be lowered by the February drop from the unusually large number of permits builders sought in January to take advantage of record warm weather and to beat a deadline for meeting expensive new building standards.

The standards, required by 1989 fair housing legislation, are designed to make apartment buildings more accessible to the handicapped. The National Association of Home Builders said the standards would add between $3,600 and $7,200 to the cost of an apartment.

According to a survey of 51 top economists published in Blue Chip Economic Indicators, the gross national product - the nation's output of goods and services - will grow 1.7 percent in 1990.

But the survey by Eggert Economic Enterprises of Sedona, Ariz., says the economic outlook "remains the most sluggish since the recession year of 1982."