Consumer Optimism Sinks Even as Gas Prices Fall


ALEXANDRIA, VA — Optimism about the economy plunged to its lowest level in almost a year even though gas prices fell 19 cents last month and are at their lowest level in seven years. Overall, consumer optimism fell three points to 44%, the lowest percentage of Americans who feel positive about the economy since March 2015, according to the results of a new consumer survey released today by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

Millennials are the only group in which a majority feel positive about the economy; 52% of those ages 18-34 report being optimistic compared to just two in five (39%) of those age 50 or higher. Four in five millennials (79%) also say that gas prices affect their economic sentiment, compared to only three in five (62%) of those age 50 or older.

Lower gas prices don’t appear to be translating into increased driving or spending. Only one in six consumers (16%) say that they will be driving more over the next month, the lowest level in three years. And only one in five consumers (21%) say they will spend more this month. Millennials are the most likely to increase their driving (30%) and spending (36%).

Consumers clearly have noticed lower gas prices. Three in four (74%) Americans say that gas prices are lower this month, the highest percentage noticing lower prices since December 2014.  And two in three (65%) drivers think that gas prices in 30 days will be about the same or lower.

“Consumers are very aware of lower gas prices but it isn’t translating into positive feelings about the economy. We will be closely watching how the petroleum industry’s spring transition to summer-blend fuels could affect gas prices, consumer sentiment and spending over the next few months,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.

NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80% of the gas sold in the country — and attracts 160 million customers a day, considerably more than the record 117 million who watched the Super Bowl — conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The NACS survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,100 gas consumers nationally were surveyed February 2-5, 2016.