THERE'S GOOD NEWS on the trade front, right? Well, perhaps. The figures for

December put the deficit at $10.66 billion, down significantly from the record $19.2 billion reported the month before. But wait a moment. The November figure really wasn't $19.2 billion. After revision, it was $15.4 billion and not a record after all.

That has been true almost every month this year. As originally reported, August, September and October showed a steady downtrend, good news for those expecting a falling dollar at last to have had some effect. After revision, there was no downtrend at all, merely a continued bumping along on a high- level plateau.All this wouldn't be too important, except that markets react to the figures as initially reported, and not to the revisions. Indeed, the Associated Press doesn't even report the revisions. We have been in a go- around with them on that, without success.

It makes us happy to learn, thus, that the Commerce Department is thinking of pushing back by as much as two weeks the release of the trade figures each month to make them more reliable.

The problem is that Commerce has difficulty getting timely data on imports

from the Customs Service. The November "record," they acknowledge, probably represented imports that should have been recorded earlier.

With the bond market, the stock market and the currency markets hanging on news from the trade front, it is important that the news be right. And right the first time.

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