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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A majority of consumers believe the days of falling gas prices are over following a week of price increases, according to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing. Fifty-eight percent of surveyed consumers believe gas prices will be higher in 30 days, a sharp spike from the 31 percent who said the same one month ago.
Despite rising gas prices, 54 percent of consumers are still optimistic about the economy. This figure is down from the 57 percent who reported optimism in January, but it's still at the highest level since January 2013, according to the results of NACS' latest monthly consumer sentiment survey. Men are significantly more optimistic about the economy than women, at 66 percent compared to 53 percent.
Nearly eight in 10 consumers (79 percent) say gas prices impact their feelings about the economy. Higher gas prices may affect consumer spending, particularly on travel, as the percentage of consumers who say they will drive more over the next 30 days dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent. Young consumers aged 18-34 are still likely to drive more over the next 30 days, with one in three (33 percent) indicating they will do so.
"Consumers remain upbeat about the economy, but there are some concerns for retailers over the coming months and gas prices will likely play a central role," said Jeff Lenard, NACS' vice president of strategic initiatives. "The recent increase in prices is clearly affecting consumer sentiment even though gas prices are now equal to what they were a month ago."
Consumers are divided on whether they will spend more over the next 30 days, with 16 percent saying they will spend more on consumer goods. This is unchanged from when gas prices bottomed out one month ago. Nineteen percent say they will spend less.
The long period of lower gas prices may have changed consumers' perception of what they consider to be high prices, according to the February NACS survey. Consumers now say a gas price of $3.50 per gallon would be the level at which they would consider reducing the amount they drive. Gas prices averaged $3.50 per gallon nationwide as recently as August 2014.