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Consumer Pessimism at Highest Point of the Year

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Consumers are more pessimistic about the economy now than they have been all year. However, this time gas prices may not shoulder all the blame for the bleak outlook.

For the first time this year, consumer pessimism increased over a 30-day period when gas prices fell. More than three in five consumers (61 percent) said they are pessimistic, an increase from the 58 percent who said they were pessimistic a month earlier, when gas prices were actually higher. The rate of pessimism was statistically consistent through the country by region and gender, according the latest monthly NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.

The national consumer survey commissioned by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing was fielded Sept. 3-4. During that period, national gas prices averaged $3.58 per gallon, 4 cents lower than the month prior, based on reported weekly gas prices from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). However, gas prices have actually increased 4.2 cents over the past week, driven by higher wholesale prices and concerns over world events and their effect on oil prices.

Gas prices are not far from consumers' minds. Nearly nine in 10 consumers (88 percent) said gas prices have an impact on their feelings about the economy, unchanged from last month. Also, 54 percent of consumers expect prices to be higher in the next 30 days, a change from last month when only 51 percent felt this way -- the lowest percentage of the year, according to NACS.

"It appears that general uncertainty -- whether over gas prices or market volatility or the situation in Syria -- is putting a significant strain on consumers, and that could negatively affect discretionary spending" said John Eichberger, NACS’ vice president of government relations. "Typically, consumers tend to shop more in stores through much of August due to warmer weather, late summer trips and back-to-school needs. Rising consumer pessimism is something that all retailers will be monitoring as we head into the fall."

NACS conducts the monthly nationwide survey in partnership with Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC to measure consumer perceptions about gas prices and how they relate to broader economic conditions. For the September survey, 802 gas consumers were polled.

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