Consumer optimism remains very strong at the start of 2017 despite a continued rise in gasoline prices.
For the third month in a row, a majority of consumers (57%) say they are optimistic about the economy—despite gas prices rising all three months, according to the latest National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Consumer Fuels survey of 1,114 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck, or van at least once per month.
Fuel consumers report a median gas price of $2.30 per gallon, an 11-cent increase from the December 2016 reported median of $2.19 per gallon. This month’s reported price represents a cumulative increase of 15 cents since November 2016 ($2.15), and a year-over-year increase of 32 cents from January 2016’s reported price of $1.98.
Over the past three months, there has been a nationwide trend of consumers noticing rising gas prices. In December 2016, one in three (38%) reported noticing higher prices, and in November 2016, one in four (27%) reported noticing higher prices.
In January 2017, three in five (61%) drivers report noticing that gas prices are “much” or “somewhat” higher than they were last month. There is also a noticeable difference by region: 71% of consumers in the Northeast reported higher pump prices, while only 46% in the West reported higher prices.
U.S. gasoline consumers expect this trend of higher fuel prices to continue in the new year. A 56% majority predict that gas prices in 30 days will be “much” or “somewhat” higher than they are this month. By comparison, only 32% of consumers at the same time last year said that they expected gas prices to be higher in 30 days.
Despite expectations of rising gas prices, consumer economic optimism held strong and steady this month, with 57% of gasoline consumers saying they feel “very” or “somewhat” optimistic about the economy. This represents only a minor decline from the historic, all-time high noted in the December 2016 study (60% optimistic).
Consumers were least optimistic in the Northeast (50%)—the region more likely have reported higher prices—and consumers were most optimistic in the West (60%)—the region least likely to have reported higher pump prices.
Also, in a noteworthy shift from monthly findings in the past, consumers over age 50 are more optimistic about the economy than those ages 18 to 34 (59% vs. 54%).
Gasoline consumers enter 2017 significantly more optimistically than they did entering into 2016; at that time, less than half of consumers (47%) reported feeling optimistic about the economy they faced entered.
“Strong economic sentiment may help continue to push sales at convenience stores and other retail outlets,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “Nearly one in five consumers (18%) say they will shop more this month—despite January traditionally being one of the slower shopping months of the year. And virtually all drivers (89%) expect to be driving either the same amount (67%) or more (22%) than they did last month.”
The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,114 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed Jan. 4-6, 2017.