ALEXANDRIA, VA — With gas prices rising 20 cents over the past month, more than two-thirds of Americans (69%) expect further price increases in May. That is double the percentage who expected rising prices as recently as February (35%), according to the results of a new consumer survey released today by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
Nearly three in four U.S. fuel consumers (72%) say gas prices are higher in their area than they were last month, according to the latest national NACS Consumer Fuels Survey of 1,109 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle at least once per month. This is the third month in a row that U.S. fuel consumers have reported increasing prices. Prior to March 2016, consumers had reported declining prices every single month since June 2015.
Despite growing expectations that gas prices will continue to rise, economic optimism among U.S. fuel consumers has remained the same over the past month. Nationwide, 44% of U.S. fuel consumers say they are optimistic about the economy, the same percentage who said they felt optimistic in April 2016.
Younger consumers and those in the Northeast, in particular, appear to be feeling the pinch of rising gas prices. Less than half of consumers ages 18-34 (47%) say that they are optimistic about the economy, the first time that has occurred since March 2015. Nearly two in five (39%) of 18- to 34-year-olds say gas prices have a “great impact” on their feeling on the economy, compared with just one in four (24%) of consumers ages 50 or older.
Consumers in the Northeast are noticing the rise in prices the most: 78% say that they have seen higher prices over the past month and 77% expect prices to continue to rise. As a result, consumers in the Northeast are the least optimistic about the economy, with only four in 10 (40%) expressing optimism.
Despite the increases of the past few months, however, gas prices are lower than they have been historically around the start of the summer. Compared to last year, gas prices are still 39 cents per gallon lower than in May 2015 and $1.49 per gallon lower than in May 2014.
“While higher gas prices certainly have a negative impact on consumers’ feelings about the economy, the annual transition to summer-blend fuels wraps ups in May, which historically has meant a moderation of price increases, unless external factors drive up oil or gas prices,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. “While prices are relatively low compared to previous Aprils, there is still considerable angst across the country related to further prices increases.”
With the increase in gas prices, average miles per dollar—a calculation that examines gas prices related to vehicle fuel efficiency—dropped significantly to 10.7 miles per dollar in May, the lowest level this year.
The NACS Retail Fuels Report (www.nacsonline.com/gasprices) examines a variety of issues related to fueling, with more than 20 backgrounders including a report on the transition to summer-blend fuels, titled “Why Prices Historically Go Up in the Spring.”
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80% of the gas in the country, conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The NACS survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,109 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed May 3-6, 2016. Summary results are available at www.nacsonline.com/fuelssurvey.