ALEXANDRIA, Va. — For the first time in two years, a majority of Americans are optimistic about the economy, thanks to the continuing slide in gas prices. A survey of gas consumers found that 57 percent of Americans are optimistic, including nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those ages 18-34.
The levels of consumer optimism are the highest measured in the more than two years that consumer sentiment has been measured by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). Almost nine in ten consumers (88 percent) say gas prices are lower today than they were last month, and they report that gas prices are 50 cents per gallon lower than they were 30 days ago.
Looking forward, consumers are evenly split about where gas prices will go from here. Nearly one in three (31 percent) say gas prices will be lower next month, which also is the largest percentage recorded. However, an equal number (31 percent) expect gas prices to go up over the next month. There is an interesting regional split when it comes to expectations of price: those in the Northeast are more likely to expect gas prices to fall (37 percent expect prices to go down vs. 21 percent who expect prices to go up), while those in the Midwest expect gas prices to go up (43 percent expect prices to go up versus 22 percent who expect prices to go down).
It remains to be seen if lower gas prices will result in more spending or driving. One in four consumers (24 percent) say that they will drive more this month, significantly higher than the 19 percent who said so each of the previous three months. However, only 16 percent of consumers say that they will spend more (excluding gas purchases) this month, while 25 percent say that they will spend less.
“Consumers generally pay down expenses in January after holiday spending so it’s not surprising that they may not shop more as gas prices fall. But if consumers do, in fact, travel more this month it would be a significant departure from previous years when January travel tended to fall off after the holidays and as winter weather keeps people indoors more,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS’ vice president of strategic initiatives.
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80 percent of the gas sold in the country, conducts the monthly consumer sentiment survey to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The NACS survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC; 1,108 gas consumers were surveyed Jan. 6-8, 2015. Summary results are at www.nacsonline.com/gasprices.
Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS is the international association for convenience and fuel retailing. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 151,000 stores across the country, posted $696 billion in total sales in 2013, of which $491 billion were motor fuels sales.