Fuel prices are not the only factor considered by consumers when it comes to economic optimism.
A new consumer survey from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) has revealed that, despite the fall in gas prices to below $2 per gallon, the majority of Americans remain pessimistic about the overall economy.
Overall, 47% of Americans say that they feel optimistic about the economy, a drop from the 48% who said they were optimistic a month earlier. Overall consumer optimism is 10 points lower than last January, when prices averaged $2.20 per gallon.
There are enormous variations in consumer optimism by age. Nearly three in five young Americans (ages 18 to 34) say that they are optimistic about the economy (57%). By contrast, older Americans are less optimistic about the economy, particularly those 50 or older (only 36% are optimistic).
These variations in optimism are also translating into swings when it comes to anticipated spending over the next 30 days. Consumers ages 18-34 say they are three times more likely to spend more this month than those age 50 or older (24% versus 8%) and they are more than three times more likely to drive more (32% versus 9%). Overall, 20% of consumers expect to drive more this month and 14% expect to spend more this month, compared to last month.
Three in four American drivers (75%) say that gas prices impact their feelings about the economy, a 10-point drop from January 2014 when prices were nearly $1.50 higher per gallon ($1.98 versus $3.41).
“Over the past three years, rising or falling gas prices almost always have a direct impact on changes in consumer optimism about the economy. However, this link has weakened over the past three months, as broader concerns over world events and a dramatic swing in the stock market have dominated the news,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “Consumers certainly feel better at the pump — sales of both fuel gallons and in-store items have increased as gas prices have fallen, though broader concerns are tempering consumer enthusiasm.”
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80% of the gas sold in the country — as well as approximately half of all lottery tickets — conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The NACS survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,101 gas consumers nationally were surveyed Dec. 7-11, 2016.