Enough with all the gloom-doom about plunging crude prices.
Yes, an oil-rich country such as Canada stands to lose. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz figures lower crude will knock roughly a third of a percentage-point off economic growth that was expected to be roughly 2.4 per cent next year.
But it’s time to stop dwelling on the negatives. Canada’s economy is very diversified, and depending on where you live, work and spend, 2015 could actually be a pretty good year.
Here are five reasons to celebrate cheaper crude:
1. Consumers have more money to spend
Mr. Poloz said the drop in oil prices, down more than 40 per cent in recent months, is “like a Christmas gift.”
A typical fill-up at the pump now costs as much as 30 per cent less than it did half a year ago. That’s extra cash you can use to buy more gas, a meal out or to put in the bank.
The average Canadian family will save about $300 a year, at current prices, according to Toronto-Dominion Bank. The more you drive, the more you’ll save. Goldman Sachs estimates the drop in gas prices is the equivalent of a massive $125-billion (U.S.) tax cut for Americans, or more than $1,000 a household.
Depending on how long oil stays at current levels, flying could also get cheaper as jet fuel prices fall.
2. Exporters win:
Because the Canadian dollar tends to track the price of oil, cheaper crude has also dragged down the loonie. At roughly 86 cents (U.S.), the dollar has lost nearly 10 cents since the summer. Many economists expect it to go lower still in the next year.
That’s not good if you’re planning a Florida vacation. But it’s good news for the roughly three quarters of Canadian exports that are outside the energy sector.
For manufacturers, who typically sell in U.S. dollars, a lower currency means higher profits.
The lower dollar also means more money to invest in new equipment or to hire more workers. For the hard-hit factory sector, a sustained lower dollar will help counter some of the bad things that have hit them in the past few years, including a flight of jobs and investment.
And the United States – the destination for 70 per cent of Canadian exporters – is a big winner from low oil prices, doubling up the benefits for Canada as the economy there gathers steam.
3. A more balanced national economy:
The past decade has been undeniably good for the oil-rich provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador – in terms of jobs, economic opportunity and government revenues. But the energy boom has been less helpful to the rest of the country, and particularly Ontario and Quebec.
That’s about to change, resulting in a more even growth picture. Overall, Canada’s economy will slow in 2015, but after-inflation GDP growth will be higher in 2015 than this year in every province, except Alberta and Newfoundland, according to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
In a role reversal, growth will be strongest in Ontario (2.8 per cent), Quebec (2.4 per cent) and B.C. (2.5 per cent). And while Ottawa and the oil-producing provinces stand to lose in tax and royalty revenue, Ontario and Quebec are winners in a low oil environment, bringing in an extra $3-billion in revenue next year.
And here’s an added bonus: The non-energy side of the economy is more labour intensive, and it’s still growing. So that bodes well for job creation.
4. Cheaper money, for longer:
Many homeowners probably thought they would be facing higher mortgage rates by now.
It hasn’t happened, as easy money from the U.S. Federal Reserve and weak demand keeps long-term global interest rates down. Already-low five-year mortgage rates have continued to slide over the past year.
Now, economists say the falling price of oil could cause the Bank of Canada to delay an eventual move to higher interest rates. Cheaper energy is keeping inflation pressures low. For homeowners and businesses, that means more time to lock in today’s low rates.
5. A window of opportunity for a carbon tax:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper argues it would be “crazy” to clamp down on oil patch carbon emissions in an environment of plunging prices.
But when gas is selling for less than $1 a litre, the time may be ripe to contemplate higher carbon taxes – a move long advocated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund. Canadian consumers learned to live with gasoline at more than $1.40 a litre. Perhaps they would be willing to give back some of their savings on gas and interest rates if the money was invested in carbon capture and other technologies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And it would send the right signal to consumers.
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Dec. 21 2014, 5:05 PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Dec. 21 2014, 7:39 PM EST