WASHINGTON: New federal statistics suggest that 1996 might see a recession. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators was down 0.3 percent in November, the third straight month of decline. "As a forecasting tool, the Index has had mixed success," says TIME's Bernard Baumohl. "It's never been proven to be totally reliable. But what is generally accepted is that three straight declines could indicate that a recession is coming some three to six months down the road." Early figures also reveal a lackluster Christmas season for retailers, who bore the brunt of record levels of consumer debt.