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Gas Price Surge Harms Economy

Morning Business Memo:

The rapid rise in gas prices has become a growing problem for the economy and stock market. The U.S. Energy Department releases its latest gas price survey today, and it's expected to show another spike. The AAA says prices at the pumps have been up 32 days in a row. The nationwide average for regular is now around $3.70 a gallon, a rise of about 40 cents in the past month.

Rising gas prices can mean less consumer spending on other things. "Gasoline prices close to four dollars a gallon would start to do real damage," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "We're still not quite there yet, got a ways to go, but anything close to four dollars, that would hurt." Gas prices usually start to rise at this time of year as refineries prepare for reformulated summer gas. But the gas price increase is larger and the change is earlier than normal

Here's the latest sign of growing problems for many brick-and-mortar retailers. OfficeMax and Office Depot are said to be in advanced talks about merging their companies. Both firms are trying to fight off tougher online competition from Amazon, plus Staples and Costco. Some rival local stores could be closed if a deal goes through.

Have you checked your credit history recently? A low credit score can affect your loan rates, even your job prospects. Kimberly Lankford of Kiplinger's Personal Finance says a low score often leads to higher insurance rates. The reason? "Insurance companies discovered that people who have low credit scores actually end up having more insurance claims than people with high scores, Lankford says. "They do charge people more if they have low scores." How do consumers make sure the facts on your credit report are accurate? "Go to annualcreditreport.com, check out your report make sure there are no mistakes even if you're not about to take out a loan because it could have a big impact on your insurance rates," she says.

Can the big stock S&P 500 do it again? The average has been up for seven weeks in a row. The market could face new headwinds from worries about what a cut in government spending, due March 1, could do to the economy. "Sequestration" would be triggered unless Congress agrees to an alternative.

Microsoft plans to spend big on its newly designed Outlook email service. In a $30 million ad campaign, Microsoft is going after rivals Google Yahoo and AOL, trying to get more Internet service customers.

Richard Davies, Business Correspondent, ABC NEWS Radio, ABCNews.com, twitter.com/daviesabc

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