Consumers Slightly More Optimistic as Gas Prices Level Off

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Leveling off of gas prices has caused consumer optimism to increase one point to 46 percent from September, according to the latest national consumer survey released by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

The last time at least half of the population was optimistic about the economy was March 2016, when gas prices averages $1.80 per gallon.

According to NACS, U.S. fuel consumers report a median gas price of $2.20, the same as it was in September 2016, but more than $1 per gallon cheaper than in October 2014. At that time, gas prices were $3.35 just prior to American voters headed into the midterm elections.

“Stable gas prices appear to have stabilized consumer sentiment, which is recovering but still significantly below the 53 percent who were optimistic last October,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “Of course, the partisan political landscape also plays a significant role in tamping down optimism. It will be interesting to see if optimism jumps higher over the coming months — no matter who is elected.”

Other findings include:

  • Men continue to be more optimistic than women (49 percent vs. 43 percent).
  • Consumers ages 18 to 34 are the most optimistic (54 percent) by age.
  • Regionally, consumers in the West are the most optimistic (51 percent).

In the South, consumer sentiment was unchanged (44 percent) as the area was plagued by fuel supply challenges in September following the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries 2.5 million barrels per day of product to particularly the Southeast. Only 9 percent of drivers in the South said that gas prices significantly increased last month vs. the national average of 7 percent of drivers who said prices increased significantly.

Looking to the future, consumers are divided on whether gas prices will rise or remain the same. Almost half (49 percent) said they expect gas prices to continue to rise vs. 40 percent who predict that prices will remain about the same as today. Just one in 10 consumers (11 percent) said they expect gas prices to drop in the next 30 days.

The association also reported that consumers’ vehicles’ average fuel efficiency increased to 23.8 miles per gallon — 1-percent higher than reported in 2015. Additionally, average miles per dollar — a calculation that examines gas prices related to vehicle fuel efficiency — increased slightly this month to 10.8 miles per dollar as gas prices remained constant and fuel efficiency increased.

NACS represents the convenience store industry that sells 80 percent of the gas in the United States. The association conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland. From Oct. 5-7, it surveyed 1,100 U.S. adults who purchased fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month. 

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