A barrel of oil is nearly $80 cheaper today than it was 18 months ago, and that price plunge has produced some predictable winners and losers. Big energy importers like Japan are quite happy to snatch up cheap oil and gas in today’s oversupplied market, while petrostates like Russia or any of OPEC’s 13 member countries are unsurprisingly struggling with large budget deficits as they contend with the bearish market.
But for the United States, which in recent years has seen oil production boom thanks to upstart shale producers, the question is a little less straightforward. Cheap oil is obviously painful to the American oil industry, but outside of those companies extracting crude and the firms offering them support, bargain hydrocarbons are a welcome development. As the WSJ reports, the U.S. economy could start really seeing the positive effects of cheap oil in 2016:
The sharp decline in crude prices in the latter half of 2014, and its attendant drop in gasoline prices, was supposed to be a boon for the economy in 2015. Alas, it wasn’t. Instead, sharp declines in oil-patch investment cut into economic growth and people opted to hang onto much of the cash they were saving at the pump rather than spend it elsewhere. . . This time around, those drops in energy costs should provide more of an economic boost.
One reason is that the cuts in oil and gas industry investment spending have been so deep there isn’t nearly as much to trim. […]
There is likely more pain ahead for oil-industry-dependent workers, but as with oil and gas industry investment, the cuts in the year ahead may not be as deep as the ones in the year now coming to a close. Concurrently, more of the money other Americans have been saving on gasoline may flow through into spending.
When oil prices first started dipping in late summer last year, analysis suggested that it would be a net positive for the U.S. economy. Those gains have been somewhat slow to materialize, but the thinking now is that the oil industry doesn’t have as far to fall in the future. Therefore, there isn’t much more bargain crude can do to offset the boost either that consumers are getting from cheap gasoline or that many U.S. companies are getting from such low prices for such an important input.
There’s no evidence that the global glut in oil is going to go away next year, so it looks like 2016 will be year two of cheap oil. That’s causing headaches for producers around the world, but for the American economy, it could be a powerful, positive force.