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Milton Ezrati of Lord AbbettGasoline prices have risen almost back to the highs seen last spring, although there’s been remarkably little coverage. Such a move will affect the economy, whether or not it’s noted in the headlines, especially if the higher prices stick. The experience last spring offers a model of what to expect. If the spike is short-lived, as it was then, the economy will show brief signs but quickly correct. If prices remain elevated for a period of months or rise farther, the pace of real economic growth, already anemic, will suffer. In time, the impact on general price levels could constrain the Federal Reserve’s ability to consider further monetary ease.

The immediate picture is far from pretty. In the past few weeks alone, the national average retail price for a gallon of gasoline has risen almost 11%, from a low of $3.36 in late June to about $3.75. That is only 5.5% below the $3.94 high last April. In higher-tax states, such as Connecticut and California, the price per gallon has already topped $4, as it did last spring. Since the increase in retail prices so far has failed to keep up with the 20% rise in wholesale gasoline prices and the 27% jump in crude oil, chances are the price at the pump will move up still more in coming weeks.

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