Oil price plunge - its winners and losers

Oil price plunge - its winners and losers

Another day, another five-year low in energy prices; the last time oil was so cheap was back in May 2009. And, if the latest projections from the International Energy Agency prove to be correct, oil prices are set to remain in the doldrums for most of the coming year.

That is undoubtedly good news for some nations. However, low energy prices also portend fundamental power shifts and realignments, and this time is no exception: 2015 may well turn out to be the year of cheap energy, but could also be the year in which we may experience some profoundly unsettling shock waves to current global security arrangements.

For developed economies, lower energy prices are always welcome and seen as a bonanza. In the popular imagination - and particularly with motorists in the United States who equate burning large quantities of "gasoline" with their constitutional rights - this should invariably be translated into lower prices at the petrol pumps.

But while the savings which car owners can expect next year are not a trifle, it is the overall impact on national economies which really matters.

And it's staggering: If low oil prices are maintained throughout 2015, this will result in a net transfer of income from energy producers to key Western consumers worth around US$1.3 trillion (S$1.7 trillion).

Add to this a declining cost for natural gas and coal, which are also affected by oil prices, and the net transfer from energy producers to consumers is even higher: It may be equivalent to the annual gross domestic product of a rich country such as Britain or France.

Most of this transferred wealth does not end up in sovereign wealth funds, but in boosting personal consumption, which helps economic growth.

Falling energy prices also dampen inflation, allowing national banks to lower interest rates, thereby helping investment. Nor are these effects confined to Western nations: Japan, India and China are also enjoying a boost.

Yet there is also a darker narrative which needs to be taken into account: the impact of falling oil prices on energy-producing nations.

As a rule, there are three ways of measuring the severity of this impact: the length of time oil prices remain depressed, the oil price level at which each energy-producing country manages to balance its government revenues with spending and, finally, the extent to which a country relies on oil for its revenues.

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