ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- In the aftermath of two deadly hurricanes that reduced fuel supply and increased demand, consumers now hold a pessimistic view of the state of the economy, according to the latest Consumer Fuels Survey from NACS. This report was conducted during the southeastern evacuations when concerns were high over fuel availability in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
The survey noted that more than four-fifths of Americans (83%) said gas prices affect their feelings toward the economy. With gas prices up 30 cents over the 30-day period to $2.59 (at the time of the survey), only 54% of Americans are optimistic about today’s economy—a 6% drop from August and the lowest since October 2016. Additionally, 82% of Americans say that gas prices are “much higher” (32%) or “somewhat higher” (50%) than prices were 30 days ago. This is the largest monthly increase reported in the nearly five-year existence of the NACS Monthly Consumer Fuels Survey.
Consumers in the past several months have reported an expectation of rising gas prices: 42% in August anticipated higher September prices, while 41% in July predicted higher prices in August. Southeast consumers—who battled Hurricane Irma—were most likely to say gas prices today are “much higher” than 30 days ago (42%). Anticipating future repercussions from the storms, 55% of American gas consumers say they believe prices 30 days from now with be higher than today. However, the general effect of “higher” prices is observed across all regions: 81% in the Northeast, 80% in Midwest, 88% in the South and 76% in the West.
These catastrophes drastically affected the U.S. transportation market. The effects of Hurricane Harvey—the first major hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since 2005—are still being felt, as approximately 10% of U.S. refining capacity is still offline.
Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for NACS, Alexandria, Va., said the lagging retail prices behind wholesale prices is a typical pattern after major storms. “From Aug. 23 through Sept. 4, wholesale prices jumped 21.1%, and retail prices went up 12.7%,” he said. “Similar metrics were seen after [hurricanes] Katrina and Rita in 2005, the last time a major hurricane hit the U.S. mainland. Like their customers, retailers hope that the damage to the fueling infrastructure—including to their retail locations—is minimal and can quickly return to normal operations.”
NACS has partnered with the American Red Cross to collect donations for areas affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and has developed resources to assist retailers and others with disaster recovery and relief.
The Consumer Fuels Survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,162 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed Sept. 5-8, 2017. Summary results are available at nacsonline.com/fuelssurvey.