ALEXANDRIA, Va. – More Americans today are optimistic about the economy than they have been in the nearly four years of tracking consumer sentiment—and they say that they intend to drive and spend more over the coming month, according to the results of a national consumer survey released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
Nearly three in five (59%) U.S. fuel consumers report feeling optimistic about the economy, a 13-point jump over the prior month, and the highest level of economic optimism reported since NACS began tracking this metric in 2013. This increase in optimism was noticeable across all demographics and regions and was a stark reversal from each of the past seven months when a majority of American fuel consumers have been pessimistic about the economy.
While the U.S. election results no doubt caught the attention of the nation, Americans also took notice of declining gas prices. U.S. gasoline consumers report a median gas price of $2.15 per gallon, a five-cent drop from October. Three in four Americans (75%) say that gas prices impact their feelings about the economy.
With optimism up, gas prices down and the election over, Americans say that they will travel and spend more over the holiday season. Nearly three in ten (a record 28%) consumers say that they will drive more this coming month, a sharp increase from the 20% said so this time last year. In addition, 30% of consumers say that they will increase their overall spending this coming month, another record for this time of year.
Some of this extra driving and spending will occur over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. More than one in three (37%) fuel consumers say they “always” or “sometimes” go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday.
Thinking about the overall economy, consumers say that lower gas prices will likely mean they will do more holiday shopping this year: 24% say they will do more holiday shopping compared to 6% who say they will do less holiday shopping. And consumers say others will be joining them at stores because of low gas prices: 45% predict that Americans will shop more this holiday season compared to only 7% who predict that Americans will shop less this holiday season.
"The positive mood of the country is welcome news for convenience stores, with the increased likelihood of more food and drink sales from happy consumers on the roads over the coming week and into the holiday season,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.
The huge upswing in economic sentiment goes beyond partisan lines, noted Lenard. “Economic optimism likely surged thanks to a combination of factors: relief over the conclusion of the election, and a more certain political outlook, which in turns has helped the stock market. And there is no question that the elevated mood of the nation has been enhanced by the sustained period of lower gas prices.”
Consumers also say their vehicle’s average fuel efficiency increased to 24.0 miles per gallon, which is about 1% higher that self-reported mileage a year ago. Average miles per dollar—a calculation that examines gas prices related to vehicle fuel efficiency—increased this month to 11.2 miles per dollar as gas prices remained constant and fuel efficiency increased.
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80% of the gas in the United States, conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,135 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed November 15-18, 2016. The monthly survey was pushed back one week later than usual in November minimize a post-election bias in the findings. Summary results are available at nacsonline.com/fuelssurvey.