What’s going on with the economy? part1 – oil

I got a text message from a friend recently asking me “soo should I be taking all my money out of the banks?” This was a response to the stock markets particularly nasty drop that day. I reassured my friend he need not convert all his money into gold bullion or stock up on guns or canned food.

While my friend’s reaction was over the top for comedic value I think many people are wondering the same thing. What the heck is going on with the economy, Canadian dollar and oil prices, and how is it all related? While my main focus on this blog is personal finance, I realize at times like these everyone, even people who could not care less about markets, start to pay attention. This sporadic attention is dangerous to their financial health, because if they haven’t been paying attention, and suddenly focus on the latest media hysteria, it’s easy to blow things out of proportion. This post needs to be split up into parts because of the complexity of the subject but I hope I can cut through some of the smoke screen and help you understand what is really going on.

Part 1 – Oil

Any discussion about what is happening in the world right now has to start with oil. Most of you know that oil prices have collapsed over the past year but maybe not everyone knows why they’ve collapsed or why it’s such a big deal for Canada.

You may remember from school that prices are set by supply and demand. If 10 people each want an apple, and there are only 5 apples available, then the price of the apple will be bid up until only 5 people can actually afford to buy an apple (or one really rich person buys all 5, but I digress). On the other hand if 10 people want to sell an apple each, but only 5 people want buy an apple each, then the sellers will keep dropping their price as far as they can, so that theirs is one of the 5 apples that actually gets bought. This is what people mean when they say prices adjust to balance supply and demand.

When demand exceeds supply prices go up until demand = supply

When supply exceeds demand prices go down until demand = supply

The following chart shows oil demand with a black line and supply with a blue line.

Do you see how the blue line gets far ahead of the black line around the middle of 2014? It is not coincidence that around the end of 2014 oil prices started their historic slide losing approx. 80% of their value. The green bars illustrate the difference between supply and demand to make it easier to see just how much supply exceeded demand from mid-2014 on. It’s this divergence with supply far exceeding demand that explains why oil prices had to fall.

Supply of oil increased far faster than demand for oil

Why did this happen? Aren’t we supposed to hitting “peak oil” and scavenging for energy left overs by now? The answer lies in something called “fracking” which, aside from damaging the environment, has made the US one of the biggest oil producers in the world.

The chart below shows how non-OPEC oil producers (that’s us, the US and Canada) drastically increased oil production since 2013 and how that coincides with the oil price (green line) falling.

It turns out technologies such as fracking and oil sand extraction have made the US and Canada some of the top oil producers in the world.


This may come as a surprise to you but the US is actually the top oil producer in the world and Canada is not far behind at #5.

Since 2011 this happened to US oil field production:

The production almost doubled in a span of 4 years. To put things in perspective the increase is equivalent to an entire new second Canada (the #5 largest producer of oil in the world) appearing out of nowhere and pumping oil full speed.

If the US is a larger oil producer, then why does Canada seem so much more affected by the oil price decline? Part of it has to do with the relative size of the economy. While we are producing only 30% as much oil as the US, our economy is also at least 10 times smaller. This means we are at least 3 times as dependant as the US on oil sales to drive our economy.

What about China and demand for oil? I’m sure you’ve heard dire warnings on TV that the Chinese economy is crashing and therefore oil demand is plummeting. As it turns out, if in fact the Chinese economy is slowing, it’s really not showing up in oil demand numbers and therefore not likely to be driving prices:

See that green line above? That’s how much oil the world is consuming per day. See that giant drop around the end of 2014? Neither do I, because it isn’t there. World oil demand is just fine, it’s the staggering size of increase in oil output in the US that is almost entirely to blame (or to thank for, depending on your point of view) for the oil price fall.

Compare the green line over the last 3 years versus the green line between 2007 and 2009. There is a definite drop in oil demand in the period leading up to the great recession signalling a severe drop in production and economic activity. The fact that this time around we are not seeing a similar drop in demand, but rather the drop appears to be entirely supply driven, is very good news for the world economy. It means we are unlikely to see a world wide recession and the fears of a repeat of 2008 are much overblown.

In summary

  1. Oil price is driven by supply and demand.
  2. Price declines can be either caused by increases in supply or decreases in demand.
  3. In general decreases in oil demand signal a slow down or problem in the world economy, while increases in supply can actually have many positive implications.
  4. Since we are looking at a supply driven oil price decline this time around, the decline is unlikely to be signalling an economic slow-down as many fear.

All well and good then, but how does that relate to the Canadian dollar and Canadian economy? Stay tuned for part #2 of the article coming soon. To make sure you don’t miss it subscribe to email alerts (on the top right of this page) or follow me on social media by clicking one of the buttons below. 

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