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How low will gas prices go?
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It was the best of times and the worst of times.

Consumers cringed as prices skyrocketed to nearly $4 a gallon over the summer, then cheered when prices plunged below $2 in October, where they remain.

But some analysts worry the extremes portend economic trouble ahead.

"(Gas prices have) dropped about 60 percent in the last month and a half," said Chris Lemley, a marketing professor at Georgia State in Atlanta. "For it to be as large as it has been, as quickly as it’s been, it’s not a good sign."

Professor Michael Toma of Armstrong Atlantic State University agreed.

"The fall of gasoline price (is) clearly a reflection of global economic weakening," Toma said. "Demand has diminished as the world enters a recession.

"Primarily, the drop in the gas prices has been because the demand for crude oil has slackened in the last six months."

Toma, the director of AASU's Center for Regional Analysis, thinks consumers are saving the money they would have spent on gas.

"One thing it can do is help with the family budget," he said.

Said Lemley: "If you look at Black Friday sales … you have to say (there is) some higher degree of confidence."

He remembers the last economic crisis being in 1987, but "nothing as big as this is."

"A lot of people are going through this for the first time as adults," Lemley said.

Gregg Laskoski, public relations managing director for AAA Georgia, said he expects 1.9 million Georgians to travel this holiday season.

"We’ve seen gasoline hit a plateau in the last few days," Laskoski said. "I think we probably won’t see gas prices move one way or the other at least for another week."

He projects it will be February or March before prices start to climb again.

"As much as Americans what to see gas prices go lower and lower, it’s important to recognize if crude goes much lower it becomes a reflection of many other weaknesses in our economy," Laskoski said.

"If it goes lower I think it would suggest our unemployment rates can go higher because there’s not enough economic activity … not enough capital for business to start rebounding, start growing."

The interest rate cuts that started in August 2007 haven’t helped.

"The problem with that is when you lower interest rates, you weaken the U.S. dollar," Laskoski said.

"When they finally left it alone, the dollar finally started to rebound."

The dollar, the prime currency for crude oil trade international trade, is gaining strength, so crude oil prices have dropped.

Lemley is mostly concerned with the possibility of deflation occurring. Deflation is a broad, sustained decline in prices. If consumers expect prices to drop, they put off buying things, thus crippling an already weak economy.

Although gas prices are low, Congressman Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, thinks this is the time to double efforts in the push for green cars and alternative fuels.

"Let’s use this time to reinvest our money into hydrogen and biodiesel and ethanol and everything else that can get us off Middle East oil," he said.

Lemley agreed.

"With prices going down as much as they have, it takes away people’s attention from conserving and developing alternative fuel sources," Lemley said. "… We need to continue to develop alternative fuel to stabilize the crisis over time."

Economic relief is not coming anytime soon.

"Clip coupons, shop sales and save as much as you can," Lemley said. "It isn’t over. Just be cautious."

"With the national, state and local economies in recession, consumers would be advised to just watch their purchasing habits," Toma said.

Lemley thinks it will be at least a year before the U.S. economy is fully robust again.

"Hopefully, we’ll (start coming out of the recession) in late spring, early summer," Lemley said.

Gas prices won’t be low for ever.

"If the global economy recovers quickly, as expected, (gas) prices will rise further," Toma said.

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