Bloc’s growth is higher than expected

Growth across the euro zone was stronger than expected at the end of last year, according to official figures released Friday, raising hopes that the economic recovery is gaining a foothold.

Gross domestic product grew by 0.3 percent in the October-to-December period from the previous quarter, said Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office.

That amounts to an annualized rate of about 1.2 percent.

In the third quarter, growth was only 0.1 percent across the bloc, which counted 17 members before Latvia joined this year.

The fourth-quarter growth — the third consecutive quarter of expansion — beat analysts’ expectations for a rate of 0.2 percent and eases pressure on the European Central Bank to loosen its monetary policy.

The growth uptick was largely driven by higher-than-expected activity in the bloc’s biggest economies — Germany, France and Italy.

Italy’s quarterly growth rate of 0.1 percent marked the country’s first positive growth result since 2011. Germany’s economy grew by 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter, while France’s was up 0.3 percent.

Growth in the Netherlands was a strong 0.7 percent, and the economies in crisis-hit Spain and Portugal also showed new signs of life, growing by 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent.

— Associated Press

Moderate rise in gas prices predicted

Drivers will be paying more at the gas pump in the coming weeks, but the price increase shouldn’t be as high as last year.

A rise in the price of gasoline is almost inevitable this time of year. Pump prices have gone up an average of 31 cents per gallon in February over the past three years.

“We’re going to get increases, and they are going to be noticeable,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at and the Oil Price Information Service. “We’re going to get that pop relatively soon.”

The average price of crude oil has risen 8 percent over the past month, to $100 per barrel. And analysts expect fuel supplies to begin to decline as refineries dial back production to perform maintenance and make the switch to more expensive summer gasoline that is formulated to meet clean air rules.

Gasoline prices are already creeping higher. The nationwide average price has risen for seven days in a row, to $3.34 per gallon, the highest level since October, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express.

But the nationwide average is not expected to quite reach its high point of last year — $3.79 per gallon, set Feb. 27 — or the highs of $3.94 in 2012 and $3.98 in 2011. AAA predicts a peak between $3.55 and $3.75 per gallon.

— Associated Press

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