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Why the key to the economy could be in your gas tank

The stealth economic indicator

Gasoline is once more a wild card for the economy—but this time it's a potential positive because prices could fall sharply.

Forecasts for a national average of $3 per gallon for unleaded this year are getting more abundant, as crude oil continues to plummet and gasoline futures drop.

"Given how the market is acting, right now, there's a good chance the nationwide average could hit $3. I'm calling for $3.15 by Halloween," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. According to AAA, the average cost of unleaded gasoline nationally was $3.42 per gallon Thursday.

For every penny gasoline prices fall, $1 billion in cash flow is free to go elsewhere, according to Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. Gasoline was higher in the spring—in the $3.70s in April, and close to that in early July. But gasoline is well off the level it was at this time last year—at $3.55 per gallon, according to AAA.