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Can U.S. economy withstand gasoline price curse?

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Could history repeat itself? That is a question uppermost in the minds of many Americans as they warily watch gasoline prices at the pump rise week after week.

After all, a spike in gasoline prices early last year helped nearly knock the economy back into recession.

The answer, economists say, is that this time is different: the recovery is in far better shape to absorb the blow.

"This is the dark cloud in an otherwise brightening domestic economic picture. It's something we need to watch right now, but not panic about yet," said Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York.

U.S. gas prices have jumped 8.8 percent since the start of this year, according to the Energy Information Agency, topping an average of $3.65 a gallon in the week through Monday. This is a record for this time of the year when prices are usually on the low side because of slow seasonal demand.

Early last year, a combination of strong gasoline prices in the wake of the so-called Arab spring uprisings and disruptions to motor vehicle production after a devastating earthquake in Japan put the brakes on U.S. growth.

Although gasoline prices are 41 cents higher than they were at this time last year, there are no supply-chain problems disrupting factory production and winter this year has been unseasonably warm, giving the economy a mild stimulus.

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