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Good News For Holiday Sales: Low Gas Prices & Consumer Optimism

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Low gas prices continue to push consumer optimism to high levels, and this optimism will likely translate into more holiday travel and shopping, according to the December 2017 NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.

Low gas prices—which dropped 3 cents per gallon to $2.47—are a big reason for the optimism: 72 percent of drivers say that gas prices affect their feelings about the economy.

For the third consecutive month, 61 percent of gas purchasers say they feel optimistic about the economy, tied for the highest level recorded over the past five years of the monthly surveys. Optimism is largely uniform across regions, but there is a significant difference by gender: Men are far likelier than women to say that they are optimistic about the economy (69 percent vs. 53 percent).

NACS, which represents the convenience store industry that sells an estimated 80 percent of the fuel sold in the U.S., has conducted monthly surveys related to economic issues since January 2013.

Consumer optimism has been consistent throughout 2017. Optimism stayed between 57 percent and 61 percent for 11 of the 12 months of 2017. The only exception was September (54 percent) following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

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Optimism in December 2017 is 10 points higher than December 2015, and 22 points higher than December 2013. This year, the average monthly gas price ranged from $2.22 to $2.59. By contrast, the average price in December 2013 was $3.29.

Consumer optimism may translate to a busy holiday shopping season. More than one in four consumers (27 percent) say they will drive more this month, led by 43 percent of those ages 18 to 34. Last month, only 16 percent of Americans said they would be driving more.

Consumers also say they may be spending more this month. One in three (33 percent) say they will be spending more this month, the same percentage as last year but 6 points higher than in December 2015.

“Strong economic optimism is undoubtedly the story of 2017. Low gas prices and high consumer optimism are the best predictors of convenience store sales. Combine these positive indicators with the continued growth of prepared foods and healthy options in convenience stores and it shows why 2017 is shaping up as another record-setting year for in-store sales,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS VP of strategic industry initiatives.

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 Dec. 5-8, 2017. Summary results are available at convenience.org/fuelssurvey.

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