Consumer sentiment continues to trend toward a positive outlook in April 2017.
Economic optimism this month held steady, with 59% of gasoline consumers saying that they feel optimistic about the U.S. economy, according to the latest Consumer Fuels Survey released by NACS.
Across all parts of the country, a majority of consumers are optimistic about the U.S. economy. Those in the South are most optimistic (64%) while those in the Northeast are least optimistic (54%). Year over year, optimism is up 15 points in comparison to April 2016, when only 44% of gasoline consumers reported feeling optimistic about the state of the economy. Current consumer optimism is only two points less than the record high (61%) reported last month.
The sustained period of low gas prices is a factor in consumer optimism; 75% of drivers say that gas prices impact their feelings about the economy.
The latest April findings also suggest that low gas prices may be encouraging more travel and spending. One in four Americans (24%) say they will drive more over the coming month, a seven-point jump compared to one year ago. And separately, one in five consumers (20%) say they will spend more, a three-point increase compared to April 2016.
NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells an estimated 80% of the fuel sold in the country, has conducted monthly surveys related to economic issues since January 2013.
“Continued positive feelings over the economy may mean that increased driving and spending associated with summer-drive season will start early this year, “said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.
Convenience store retailers also say they are optimistic about the economy. Nearly three in four (73%) said that they are optimistic about their business prospects over the second quarter of 2017.
Gas prices typically move upward in the spring as the industry transitions to producing summer-blend fuels, and consumers are both seeing prices climb and expect more increases to come.
Drivers report a small four-cent increase in the price of gasoline in their area this month, with a reported median gas price of $2.33, in comparison to the $2.29 median price reported in March 2017.
Price increases are being felt the most strongly in the West, where a majority (52%) report seeing gas prices higher than they were last month. By comparison, just 41% of gas consumers in the Northeast and the South report seeing higher gas prices this month.
Looking forward, few expect gas prices to drop; one in three (36%) believe prices will remain about the same while over half (55%) believe prices will be higher in 30 days.
The survey was conducted online by PSB (Penn Schoen Berland); 1,104 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month were surveyed April 4-7, 2017.