The continued economic optimism that is driving the stock market to new highs may have the same effect on holiday shopping and travel, according to the results of a new national consumer survey released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
A record 60% of U.S. fuel consumers report feeling optimistic about the economy, a 1-point increase over the prior month. Younger consumers ages 18 – 34 (64%) and consumers in the South (also 64%) report the highest levels of optimism, which is largely consistent across all demographics.
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells 80% of the gas in the United States, conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends.
Americans also say they are more likely to go out and shop than in previous holiday seasons. One in three (33%) say they will be spending more money this month on non-fuels purchases, significantly higher than December 2015 (27%) and December 2014 (24%). More than two in five younger consumers ages 18 – 34 (42%) say they will spend more this month.
Americans also intend to drive more this December: 27% compared to only 22% who said they would drive more last December.
Low gas prices are a major factor driving consumer optimism. Three in four drivers (78%) say gas prices impact their feelings about the economy, including 84% of consumers age 18 – 34. Nationally, gas prices peaked for the year in June at $2.38 per gallon.
Though consumer optimism remains strong, there is some concern about gas prices rising in the future. More than one in three (38%) consumers say gas prices increased over the past month, and a majority of fuel consumers (52%) believe that gas prices in 30 days will be higher than they are today. Nationwide, gas prices rose from $2.15 to $2.19 per gallon over the past three weeks. While gas prices are 19 cents per gallon higher than a year ago (December 2015: $2.00), they are significantly lower than they were in December 2014 ($2.70) and December 2013 ($3.29).
“Economic optimism is continuing into the holiday shopping and travel season,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives. “This continued optimism as we head into 2017 is good news for retailers across the country—and especially for convenience store retailers who will offer food and fuel for holiday shoppers and travelers.”
Average miles per dollar—a calculation that examines gas prices related to vehicle fuel efficiency—remained steady at 11.1 miles per dollar.
The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland; 1,124 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed December 6 – 9, 2016. The time period between the November and December monthly survey was compressed compared to typical months; the November survey was conducted one week later than usual (November 15 – 18) in order to avoid fielding during election. Summary results are available at nacsonline.com/fuelssurvey.