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THE WINNERS AND THE LOSERS

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* WINNERS: American workers. The latest indicators show the American economy is now growing at its best clip in a decade. As a result, personal income surged to its highest increase in eight months in October. The trouble is that such good news could give the Federal Reserve an excuse to hike interest rates again.

* WINNERS: Banks - and savers. Personal incomes are growing faster than Americans are spending their money. As a result, Americans' rate of saving - as a percentage of disposable income - rose to 4.7 percent in October, up from 4.1 percent the previous month and the highest level since the 5 percent rate in April 1993. More saving, of course, means more money to invest in new businesses that, in turn, create new jobs and more income. Despite the improvement, Americans still save less than the Japanese and many Europeans.LOSERS: Banks - because check fraud has more than doubled from 1991 through 1993, the latest year for which figures are available. Hardest hit are financial institutions in the West and Northeast. The upsurge is so steep that it evidently results from organized, sustained efforts to pass bad checks.

LOSERS: Students, parents and teachers - because they're not communicating as much as they need to. A new survey shows that youngsters who have problems at school tend to talk about them with fellow classmates, not parents or teachers. Why? Because the youths think adults won't understand or help.

* WINNERS: Tall people. It seems they have a better chance of surviving a heart attack than short people do. Researchers explain that tall people may have wider arteries, allowing blood to flow more easily. Also, one possible reason for shortness may be poor nutrition in childhood. Poor nutrition, in turn, can bring on a greater number of illnesses contributing to death from heart attack.

LOSERS: Smokers - for some previously unknown reasons. This week government researchers reported that smokers are 50 percent more likely to suffer from impotence than nonsmokers. In fact, the rate may be even higher because the research necessarily involved only men willing to acknowledge the sexual disorder. If the threat of cancer and heart disease won't keep some men from smoking, maybe this latest risk will.

- NEWEST FAD: Owning a reptile. It seems they're the fastest-growing category of pets, according to a report this week from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. A new survey by the council shows more than seven million reptile pets are residing in three million U.S. homes. Now watch for hospital emergency wards to report a fastest-growing new category of injuries: snake bites.