Consumer Optimism Tracks Price of Gasoline at Pump

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Just as quickly as consumer optimism rose in July, it fell in August, even though gasoline prices declined more than 15 cents a gallon over the past month, according to a survey conducted for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The survey found that 39% of consumers say they are optimistic about the economy, down from 46% in July.

Those polled age 50 and older are the least optimistic, 35% expressing that sentiment. The seven-point drop was the largest since January 2013 when the association began its monthly survey to measure the correlation between the price of vehicle fuels and consumer sentiment.

In the 20 months since the surveys began, consumer sentiment has closely tracked gasoline prices, optimism rising when prices fall and vice versa -- except for a couple of exceptions such as last fall's 16-day government shutdown and this month's drop in the stock market.

"The dramatic swings in consumer optimism over the past two months clearly show that sentiment remains fragile," said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives, in a prepared statement. "A rise or fall in everyday expenses -- like gas prices -- usually is an accurate predictor of sentiment unless something significant occurs. This month it is clear that the recent sharp drop in stock prices -- and concerns over world events -- shook up consumers."

The monthly survey finds consumers don't expect things necessarily to get worse, at least at the gas pump. Consumers tend to be pessimistic about gas prices but 47% expect prices to be higher next month, a low for 2014, and a sharp drop from July when 64% said they expected to see prices rise.

The National Association of Convenience Stores, founded in 1961, represents the owners of more than 151,000 stores across the country. They posted $696 billion in total sales in 2013, of which $491 billion were sales of motor fuels.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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