Gas prices finally stop their steep climb

(CBS News) Rising gas prices are like a gun aimed at the heart of the economic recovery. You've been paying more and at this time of year; you'd expect them to rise even further. But, all of the sudden, the pressure on the trigger is easing.

The average price is $3.86 per gallon. That's down a nickel in just the past week.

A year ago today, we were paying that same: $3.86 per gallon. This is the first time prices haven't risen year to year in two-and-a-half years.

CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason looked into whether or not gas prices keep dropping, and whether the danger is over for the economy.

The price of crude has been slipping in the trading pits; oil fell again Monday. As tensions with Iran have eased, some of the speculators who helped push up the price have been driven away.

"There is a little bit of fear in speculators now. They realize there's not just upside potential, but there's downside risk as well," said Tom Kloza, who works with the Oil Price Information Service.

Gas price averages
Gas price averages on April 23, 2012 CBS News

Since April 6th, the average price of a gallon of gas has fallen by 8 cents from $3.94 to $3.86.

"It's not gonna be enough to buy a boat, but you're gonna save a little bit of money. You're certainly not gonna pay some of those $4.50 and $5 numbers that were talked about awhile ago," Kloza said.

That's finally broken a streak of 910 straight days, during which gas was more expensive than it was one year earlier; 17 states have now broken below their year ago average.

But Kloza does not see a continuing downward trend, and he warns: be careful what you wish for.

"It's kind of like rooting for a recession. If you really want sharply lower prices you need to root for a recession or you need to root for a technological breakthrough, which isn't out there right now," Kloza said.

Kloza sees price lingering about where they are now until the summer. The good news: you can forget all those highest-price-ever predictions, at least for awhile.

Economists look at gas prices as the biggest threat to the economy; if prices hit $5 per gallon, than a recession will be likely to hit. Higher gas prices are considered a tax taking money out of people's pockets, but these lower prices should mean the recovery is okay for now.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"