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Inflation - a great concern for many economists as the nation's recovery matures - was surprisingly moderate in March, rising only 0.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most of the increase was attributed to higher gas prices; lower food prices helped balance things out.

Prices rose an annualized 5.0 percent during the first quarter of 1984; that compares with an '83 rate of 3.8 percent. Although some economists predict that the rate could accelerate, White House economist Martin Feldstein cited the March figures Tuesday as ''further evidence that the economy is not overheating.''

The consumer price index stood at 307.3 in March: Goods costing $10 in 1967 would have cost $30.73 last month. A companion index, the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, was unchanged. This index is used in calculating cost-of-living increases in collective-bargaining contracts and government benefit programs.

Another sign of slowing expansion was Tuesday's Commerce Department report of a modest 0.8 percent increase in factory orders for durable goods in March. Like the CPI, this was the smallest increase in three months.

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