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While traders sort through bonus checks and investors tally up another year of solid gains, the 1997 economic derby begins in earnest Thursday.

Quicker growth? Looming doom? Who can say. But the debating cliques will get plenty of ammunition to kick off the guessing game. The initial jobless claims data should provide early clues for the December employment report, due on Jan. 10. The

National Association of Purchasing Management's

December survey is expected to show a strengthening in the manufacturing sector of the economy.

Thursday's numbers:

Initial Jobless Claims

(8:30 AM EST): For the week ended December 28. Economists expect the four-week moving average for claims to rise modestly from 335,000 in the previous week.

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National Association of Purchasing Management Survey

(10:00 AM EST): A smorgasbord of national manufacturing data. The NAPM index is expected to show a mild increase from a reading of 52.7 in November. A reading over 50 means the manufacturing portion of the economy is expanding. Also keep an eye on the prices-paid figures for any whiffs of inflation.

Domestic Auto & Truck sales

(Afternoon): Signs of surprising strength would certainly give the growth camp some powerful ammunition.

Mortgage Bankers Association Data

(Morning): All kinds of interesting dope on the housing market, which, according to the November new single-home sales data, sure looks hot.

By Dave Kansas