The Pursuit of Gas-Price Happiness

Despite higher prices, most consumers not considering less driving--for now

AAA NACS Gas Station (CSP Daily News / Convenience Store Petroleum)

Meanwhile, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Consumer Fuels Survey for April found that consumers continue to be optimistic about the economy, with 44% expecting improving conditions, despite the fact that gasoline prices rose almost 10 cents per gallon over the four weeks heading into April.

At this same time period in 2013, consumer optimism fell five percentage points between January and March while gasoline prices peaked. In 2014, optimism grew one point between January and April, even though retail gasoline prices are up 25 cents since the start of the year, NACS reported

From a demographic and regional perspective, those groups with the most positive outlook include those between the ages of 18 and 34 years old (54%) and fuel consumers who live in the western United States (50%). Consumers in the Northeast and Midwest, which are both recovering from a brutal winter, are least optimistic about the economy, or only 41% in each geography.

And 63% of consumers expect gasoline prices to rise over the next 30 days, which NACS reports is the highest percentage with this sentiment since July 2013.

Consumers also indicated at what point fuel prices will need to hit before they consider cutting back on driving: $4.05 per gallon, about 50 cents from their area's current prices. What would trigger a dramatic change in behavior? Survey participants said $4.90, or $1.35 from current prices. As these gaps narrow between current prices and consumers' projected price pain point, the potential grows for changes in behavior, NACS said, noting that both gaps for April are one cent from the lowest reported in the previous year.

Meanwhile, consumers' self-reported miles per dollar fell in April by 3.3% to 6.71 miles per dollar, or 15 cents per mile.