Uncertainty Takes Rising Toll on Buyers and Sellers: Pro

Javier E. David|Special to

Rising energy prices and torpid U.S. economic growth are taking an increasing toll on cash-strapped consumers and retailers faced with dwindling profit margins, an industry representative told CNBC on Monday.

Consumer Sentiment Costco
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

John Eichberger, director of motor fuels for the National Association of Convenience Stores, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that consumer confidence is being negatively affected by a host of factors.

“What we’re seeing is across the country … is in-store sales are down this year compared to last year,” Eichberger said. “When you combine that with high prices and lower retail margins … retailers are definitely feeling the pinch and consumers are not having a good time.”

According to Eichberger, convenience store owners derive much of their income from purchases that consumers make at gas stations not related to gasoline. High gas prices — hovering just shy of $4 a gallon nationally — are undermining the ability of convenience store retailers to sell other products to cash-strapped consumers, he said.

Gas Price Pressure Felt Beyond Pump

Rising unrest in the Middle East threatens to send oil prices on a renewed tear. That could prompt consumers to rein in their spending even further, which could worsen the outlook for retailers.

“We do make a lot more money on the in-store items” and gas prices help consumers determine where they spend, and how much, Eichberger said. “That price has to be competitive, and unfortunately that competition results in a price that doesn’t always provide the retailer with any positive return.”

Although he stopped short of saying the U.S. economy was close to a full-blown recession, he noted that sales “have slowed down a little bit because margins are so much lower and consumers aren’t spending much.”

—By’s Javier E. David