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ORANGE COUNTY, CA-Soaring utility bills here and in other parts along the West Coast are beginning to hurt the national economy but will not push the US into a full-blown recession, a new report by a group of top economists says.

The closely watched Blue Chip Economic Indicators’ survey of leading private-sector analysts, released yesterday, acknowledges that California’s energy crisis has combined with dot-com layoffs and other factors to leave the US economy “skating on thin ice.” But the series of interest-rate cuts made by the Federal Reserve Board earlier this year will rekindle the nation’s stagnant manufacturing segment in the second half, the survey says, while the tax-rebate checks that the Federal Government will begin mailing soon as part of President Bush’s recently approved tax-cutting plan will spur more consumer spending.

“A large majority of our panel members continue to believe the US economy will manage to avoid suffering even one quarter of negative [economic] growth, much less the two consecutive quarters that traditionally define a recession,” the Blue Chip report says.

The forecast, which is based on the outlook of economists at dozens of Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses, says the economy will grow at a modest 1% annual rate in the second quarter of this year. But it also predicts that growth will accelerate to a 2.1% yearly rate in the third quarter and a healthy 3% rate in the final three months of 2001.

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