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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- While many consumers face the end-of-summer blues this time every year, recent gas prices are adding to the overall pessimism in the market.
According to the latest monthly NACS Consumer Fuels Survey, nearly six in 10 consumers (58 percent) said they are pessimistic about the economy. The latest numbers stand in contrast to early July, when consumer pessimism was at 52 percent, the lowest level of the year. In the weeks since, oil prices climbed to 16-month highs and gas prices also rose, helping to trigger the largest increase in pessimism this year.
Drilling down into the numbers, the survey found some differences among demographic segments. Sixty-one percent of women said they are pessimistic about the economy, as opposed to 55 percent of men. In addition, younger consumers, those aged 18 to 34, were the least likely to be deeply pessimistic, with only 12 percent saying they are "very pessimistic."
The national consumer survey commissioned by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, was fielded from Aug. 7-9, when national gas prices averaged $3.62 per gallon -- approximately 15 cents higher than the previous month, based on reported weekly gas prices from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS).
Nearly nine in 10 consumers (88 percent) said gas prices impacted their feelings about the economy, the highest percentage since March. They were also keenly aware of gas prices in their area. When asked the price of gas in their area, the mean consumer response was $3.65, within a few cents of the national average, according to the Alexandria-based association.
"Our monthly surveys continue to confirm that gas prices play a huge role in consumer sentiment about the overall economy," said NACS' Vice President of Government Relations John Eichberger. "We expected that the price fluctuations over the last few weeks would affect consumer sentiment. Given the limited control retailers have over fuel prices, such a swing in sentiment should be a source for concern."
Not all news from the survey was bad, though. Consumers don't expect prices to climb much higher and that may bode well for consumer sentiment in September. Slightly more than half of consumers (51 percent) expect gas prices to rise over the coming 30 days, a decrease from a month ago when 64 percent predicted -- correctly -- a rise in gas prices.