Consumer Optimism Ticks Up as Gas Prices Dip

Posted on February 12, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Consumer optimism about the economy continues to improve after reaching a low point in October 2013, according to the latest monthly NACS Consumer Fuels Survey, which examines how gas prices affect consumer sentiment.

Although the 43 percent of consumers who report being optimistic about the economy remains unchanged from one month ago, 9 percent of consumers say they are very optimistic about the economy — the highest percentage since July 2013. Younger consumers are particularly optimistic, with 17 percent of those aged 18 to 34 saying they are very optimistic, compared to the 4 percent of those over 50 who say the same.

Gas prices, which dropped 4 percent over the last month, continue to play a major part in shaping economic sentiment, with 84 percent of consumers saying gas prices have an impact on their feelings about the economy.

Adding to the optimism is the fact that consumers say gas prices would have to significantly increase before they will change their driving habits. Gas prices would have to increase by 79 cents per gallon before consumers would cut back on driving, and they would have to increase by $1.74 per gallon before consumers would seek out an alternative to driving or drive drastically less, according to the report. Both of these gaps between current prices and future behavior have reached their highest levels since May 2013, when NACS began tracking this metric.

Consumers may also feel that they are getting more value for their dollar, as miles per dollar spent at the pump increased 4.3 percent to 7.2 miles per dollar, according to their self-reported gas prices and gas mileage estimates.

“By virtually every metric that we examined, consumers, particularly younger consumers, are feeling optimistic, and that is great news for the economy’s prospects in 2014,” said NACS Vice President of Government Relations John Eichberger. “However, consumers do have concerns that gas prices will increase: more than half of them (51 percent) say that prices will increase over the next 30 days, and if that is the case, overall consumer optimism may take a hit.”

The survey was conducted in partnership with Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC to measure consumer perceptions about gas prices and how they relate to broader economic conditions. A total of 1,115 gas customers were surveyed from Feb. 4-6.