Economists say today's prices probably won't do much damage to the economy. That's because the economy is healthier than it was early last year, when higher gas prices slowed growth and consumers cut back on clothes, food and other items.
But if gasoline prices blow past $4.50 a gallon this summer, perhaps because of tensions over Iran's nuclear program, all bets are off.
Consumers could scale back. That would cool an economy that relies on consumer spending for 70 percent of its output.
Expectations for economic growth this year are already muted. Beth Ann Bovino, senior economist at Standard & Poor's, expects growth to slow from a 3 percent annual rate at the end of last year to 2.1 percent this year and 2.3 percent in 2013.
"It's a very subpar recovery," she says. "Historically, after a recession ends, we would see 5 percent growth. ... I think we can survive $100 oil. But it's going to make this pretty lousy recovery feel even worse."
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