ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Higher gas prices and a wild stock market spooked consumers in February, pushing economic optimism to a six-month low in the latest NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.
In the February 2018 survey, 60% of respondents said they were optimistic about the economy—the lowest percentage since September 2017, when the supply aftershocks of Hurricane Harvey pushed gas prices up 28 cents per gallon (CPG) in one week.
Two-thirds (66%) of consumers observed higher gas prices over the past month, with a reported average of $2.59 per gallon, 9 CPG higher than the reported average in January 2018. Seventy-seven percent of consumers said gas prices affected their feelings about the economy.
Higher gas prices are not affecting consumers’ willingness to travel, however. According to the February 2018 survey, 24% of consumers said they plan to drive more over the next month. This is five points higher than in February 2017. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 were most likely to expect to travel more.
But consumers do not necessarily plan to spend more money on household purchases. The survey found that the percentage of those who plan to spend less over the coming month was actually higher than those who plan to spend more (22% vs. 19%, respectively). And more consumers said they would dine out less in the coming month than those who planned to dine out more (32% vs. 19%, respectively).
“Consumers are still very optimistic in general, but there are some early warning signs for retailers,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for NACS, Alexandria, Va. “The question on the minds of most c-store operators today is whether increased traffic will lead to increased sales inside the store.”
NACS has conducted the monthly Consumer Fuels Survey since January 2013. The most recent survey was conducted online from Feb. 5-8 by Penn Schoen Berland with 1,501 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle at least once per month. For a summary of results, click here.