Turbulent Stock Market, Gas Prices Shake Consumer Optimism

Consumer economic optimism in February dropped by 5 percentage points to 60%, the lowest level since September 2017.
February 20, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Consumer optimism has dipped in February, though that does not mean consumer spending is poised to suffer, according to the latest findings released today in the NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.

A turbulent stock market compounded with a 9-cent increase in gas prices lowered February consumer economic optimism by 5 percentage points to 60%—the lowest consumer economic optimism reported in the past six months. The previous low (54%) was in September 2017 when Hurricane Harvey shut down one third of the country’s refining capacity and gas prices surged 28 cents in a single week.

Nationwide, 66% of consumers noticed that gas prices increased over the past month (from $2.50 to $2.59 during the reporting period); this mirrors the surge also seen in September 2017 when 82% of drivers noticed that gas prices increased. Overall, 77% of consumers surveyed in the latest Consumer Fuels Survey said that gas prices impacted their feelings about the economy.

NACS has conducted monthly surveys related to economic issues and consumer sentiment since January 2013.

One in four drivers (24%) say they will drive more over the coming month, which is up five percentage points compared to one year ago (19%, February 2017). Younger consumers ages 18 to 34 are most likely to drive more in the coming month (39%).

Though consumers say they are likely to drive more over the coming month, they may not be spending more on typical household purchases (22% say they will spend less versus 19% of those who say they will spend more), or eating more meals outside the home (32% say they will dine out less versus 19% of those who say they will dine out more).

“Consumers are still very optimistic in general, but there are some early warning signs for retailers. The question on the minds of most c-store operators today is whether increased traffic will lead to increased sales inside the store,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.

The survey was conducted online by PSB (Penn Schoen Berland); 1,501 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed February 5-8. Summary results are available online.