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Falling gasoline prices should boost economy

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Gasoline prices could fall below $3 a gallon nationwide by the weekend, and the already big savings for consumers could give the economy a growth spurt as it fuels other parts of the economy.

The sharp drop in gasoline prices this month could also put some jingle in holiday sales, and economists expect to see several tenths added to fourth-quarter GDP growth. The national average per gallon of unleaded gasoline Tuesday was $3.03, 6 cents cheaper than a week ago and $0.31 below a month ago levels, according to AAA.

The boost in consumer spending on things other than gasoline will probably show up in real spending in November and December data. "The hope I'm sure in the retail sector is that the extra money that consumers find in their pockets is going to be spent in the holiday season," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

"Every penny on seasonally adjusted gasoline prices should be worth about $1 billion," Stanley said. "Over the course of the year...That's probably an extra three or four tenths on GDP. I think that will help at the margin. " Economists say for the savings to carry real punch, the drop in gasoline prices from the summer high near $3.70 per gallon will have to be prolonged.