Consumer Optimism Gets Case of Summertime Blues

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Consumer optimism surprisingly plunged 5 percentage points during the past month, according to the latest NACS survey of U.S. fuel consumers conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland.

According to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, only 47 percent of the 1,101 gas consumers surveyed July 1-6 are optimistic about the economy. Last July, consumer sentiment surged 7 percentage points to 46 percent of survey respondents saying they were optimistic about the economy, at a time when gas prices were an average of 80 cents per gallon higher than they are today.

The trade group noted that a drop in consumer sentiment is surprising, as consumers tend to be more optimistic during summer months.

Convenience store retailers could certainly be affected by this change in sentiment, NACS added. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they plan to reduce spending on items beside gasoline this month, the survey revealed. This represents the highest such reading since this question was first asked in September 2014.

Even the most optimistic consumers, those in the 18- to 34-year-old age group, also plan to curtail spending, with one-quarter of respondents in this age group saying they will spend less this month.

“While gas prices remain relatively low, we may be seeing consumer frustration because prices aren’t falling over the summer months,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS’ vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “Add to the mix consumers saying they will change behavior — and feel pain — at lower price points, and we may see pessimism linger, which could affect third-quarter sales.”

The latest survey also revealed consumers would cut back on driving if gas prices climbed to $3.65 per gallon, which was ironically the average gas price in July 2014. Last year at this time, consumers said they would cut back on driving if gas prices reached $4.19 per gallon.

Founded in 1961, Alexandria-based NACS has 2,100 retail and 1,600 supplier member companies that do business in nearly 50 countries.

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