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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — U.S. consumers are feeling positive about the economy and decreasing gas prices are playing a key role.
According to a survey of gas consumers conducted by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, 57 percent of Americans are optimistic, including nearly two-thirds of respondents between 18 and 34 years old.
These levels of consumer optimism are the highest measured in the more than two years that consumer sentiment has been measured by NACS.
Looking at the price at the pump, almost nine in 10 consumers say gas prices are lower today than they were last month, and they report that gas prices are 50 cents per gallon lower than they were 30 days ago.
Moving forward, consumers are evenly split about where gas prices will go from here. Nearly one in three (31 percent) say gas prices will be lower next month, which also is the largest percentage recorded. However, an equal number expect gas prices to rise during the next month.
The direction of future gas prices points to a regional divide. According to NACS, consumers in the Northeast are more likely to expect gas prices to fall, with 37 percent expecting prices to go down vs. 21 percent who expect prices to go up. Conversely, in the Midwest, 43 percent expect prices to go up vs. 22 percent who expect prices to go down.
It remains to be seen if lower gas prices will result in more spending or driving. One in four consumers say they will drive more this month, significantly higher than the 19 percent who said so each of the previous three months. However, only 16 percent of consumers say they will spend more (excluding gas purchases) this month, while 25 percent say they will spend less.
"Consumers generally pay down expenses in January after holiday spending, so it's not surprising that they may not shop more as gas prices fall. But if consumers do, in fact, travel more this month it would be a significant departure from previous years when January travel tended to fall off after the holidays and as winter weather keeps people indoors more," said Jeff Lenard, NACS' vice president of strategic initiatives.
The NACS survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC and reached 1,108 gas consumers between Jan. 6-8.