Consumers' August Doldrums

Greatest drop in sentiment since NACS launched gas-price optimism survey

Last Chance Gas Sign NACS (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- After a burst of optimism in July, consumers grew sharply pessimistic about the state of the economy in August. This is in spite of a 15-cent drop in gasoline prices during the past month, according to the August NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.

The monthly survey by the National Association of Convenience Stores tracks how gas prices influence consumer sentiment. Less than 40% of consumers surveyed in August said they were optimistic about the economy, compared to the 46% who expressed optimism in July. NACS noted that this is the greatest drop in sentiment since the survey launched in Jan. 2013.

Those 50 years or older were the least optimistic, with only 35% showing optimism. Only 5% of consumers said they were "very optimistic," the lowest level since Sept. 2013.

Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives, said the decrease shows that consumer sentiment continues to remain fragile, especially against a backdrop of high geopolitical tensions.

"A rise or fall in everyday expenses--like gas prices--is usually an accurate predictor of sentiment unless something significant occurs, and this month it is clear that the recent sharp drop in stock prices--and concerns over world events--shook up consumers," said Lenard.

Regardless, consumers appear not ready to change their driving behavior much; the percentage of those saying they would drive about the same amount dipped only one point to 64%, with a small uptick in the percentages who said they would drive somewhat or a lot more.

Meanwhile, 39% of consumers said that gas prices greatly impact their feelings about the economy, off slightly from the July survey.

Less than one-half of consumers expect gas prices to increase during the next month, which is the lowest level since January 2014, and significantly fewer than the 64% in July who anticipated higher prices. The greatest percentage--43%--expect prices to remain about the same.

The NACS Consumer Fuels Survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates LLC, which surveyed 1,111 gas consumers between Aug. 5 and 7, 2014. The OPIS weekly national average price for gas on Aug. 4 of the survey week was $3.508 per gallon.

For a summary of results, click here.