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U.S. records a surplus of $25.4 billion

Rising tax revenue helped the federal government record a $25.4 billion surplus in January as it heads toward what could be the first fiscal year surplus since 1969.

For the 12 months ended in January, the cumulative surplus totaled $9.6 billion - the most in at least 28 years. Just two months earlier, a $2.4 billion surplus in the 12 months ended in November was the first for any 12-month period since 1970.The January surplus, swelled by quarterly income tax payments, was about $2.5 billion more than analysts had expected. The surplus was the difference between $162.6 billion in receipts and spending of $137.2 billion.

During the first four months of fiscal 1998, which began Oct. 1., the government had a $14.3 billion deficit. That's 69 percent less than the same period of fiscal 1997, when the deficit hit a 23-year low of $22 billion.

The Clinton administration last month predicted a $10 billion deficit for fiscal 1998 but Congressional Budget Office analysts earlier this month said a surplus - the first since fiscal 1969 - is likely if revenue growth continues strong.

The strong economy and booming stock market have increased the stream of tax revenue to the government, particularly from capital-gains taxes paid after stock sales.

Revenue through the first four months of fiscal 1998 totaled $549 billion, up 10.5 percent from the same period a year ago. Spending, at $563.3 billion, was up only 3.8 percent from a year ago.

February and March likely will see the budget in deficit as individuals claim income tax refunds. But April tax payments should produce a record monthly surplus, surpassing last April's $93.9 billion record.

It's then that analysts will be able to forecast more accurately whether fiscal 1998 will go down in history as the first surplus year since fiscal 1969.