Fears that skyrocketing oil prices will derail the tepid economic recovery could be overblown, economists say.
Still, most economists believe a deafening level of uncertainty will last through the November elections.
HSBC (HBC) Chief Economist Stephen King released a report, saying rising oil prices are now the equivalent of the Greece debt crisis "as a source of investor anxiety."
"With Greece disappearing, at least temporarily, from the headlines, investors have quickly found a new source of anxiety thanks to the recent surge in oil prices," King said. "If the trend persists, a fragile economic recovery in the developed world could quickly be derailed and inflation could return to emerging markets."
The expected surge has been blamed on everything from oil speculators to issues in Iran.
But Roger Meiners, an economist at the University of Texas at Arlington, says it's doubtful the impact of a surge in gas prices would be more than a blip on the overall economic radar screen. He said if there is an increase in gas prices, areas that could be hit include restaurant dining, luxury goods and high-end shopping — all of which were impacted when gas prices hit near the $4 dollar mark several years ago, Meiners said.
Still, Meiners doesn't see oil itself as a turning point to an economic meltdown.
"My sense is people are sort of sitting on their hands until after the election. The biggest threat on the horizon is the significant increases in tax rates that are coming when the Bush tax cuts expire and Medicare taxes go up." Another issue involves changes that could come if President Obama's health care plan remains in place, he said.
Meiners also points to uncertainties in the mortgage sector, which is now under the thumb of regulatory changes tied to the Dodd-Frank Act.
"They are very skittish," he said. "What are the rules going to be? We haven't seen any change in the underlying weaknesses in our mortgage system. The banks are skittish about loans, but there is still some political pressure to do it. There is so much uncertainty and a lack of clarity in regulations."