singaporeen
Why lower oil prices don’t always help the economy

Why lower oil prices don’t always help the economy

10-01-2018 | Insight

Lower oil prices don’t necessarily translate into higher economic growth, says Robeco strategist Peter van der Welle.

  • Peter van der Welle
    Peter
    van der Welle
    Strategist

Speed read

  • Investors puzzled why low oil prices don’t trigger growth
  • US dynamics changed while Europe saw a slowdown
  • Oil price collapse coincided with low-growth environment

He says many investors have been surprised that the GDP in western economies has not been boosted in 2017 by the extra money in the pockets of consumers thanks to cheaper energy and gasoline. The price of benchmark Brent crude first began to fall in the summer of 2014, moving from a high of USD 115 a barrel to a low of USD 28 in January 2016. “The US and global economy-at-large continued to struggle throughout this period, continually lagging consensus growth estimates, despite the supposed benefit of lower oil bills,” says Van der Welle.

“For the US, there were two reasons why the benefits of lower oil prices were probably lower than expected. Firstly, as a result of the shale revolution, the US oil & gas sector has gained more importance in overall economic activity. Subsequently, the cuts in capital expenditure that accompanied the fall in the oil price as oil producers laid off rigs weighed more heavily on overall GDP growth than had been included in the forecasts.”

“Secondly, the proportion of US GDP that energy accounts for – its ‘energy intensity’ – was already on a steady downtrend, lowering the sensitivity of the sector to an oil price shock than had been experienced in the past.”

Robeco Singapore Private Limited

12 Marina View 
#10-02, Asia Square Tower 2 
Singapore 018961 
Email: robecosg@robeco.com
Tel: +65 6909 6898

Contact

Debunking a theory

Van der Welle says the theory that the money saved by oil-importing countries would have a greater economic impact than the revenue lost by the oil producers has largely been debunked. In the past, big oil importers such as European nations were seen as being more likely to treat the money saved from lower gasoline prices as income, and then spend it, which should in theory induce a net plus for the global economy.

However, negative growth surprises in advanced economies have been regularly reported since the oil price slump. This has led to a new view that higher spending by consumers fully mitigates the negative impact of the revenue-losing oil producers, but does not exceed it.

“In other words, it is a zero-sum game, and each opposing effect cancels the other out,” Van der Welle says. “But this zero-sum game story does not fully convince, as it implies that differences in oil price sensitivity at a country level almost perfectly hedge each other on a global scale.”

“Under this logic, say a USD 1 decline in the oil price causes an increase of 0.04% in cheaper oil imports, it should simultaneously imply a decrease of 0.04% in oil exports of the oil producers. But this does not take into account differences in fossil fuel reserves, the import/export ratio of oil, its production/consumption ratio and oil’s sectoral composition, all of which are relevant for the eventual impact of an oil price shock.”

Inelastic elasticity

Van der Welle says the story becomes even more complicated when oil price elasticity – its ability to influence a particular economy over time – is included. Different studies already report different oil price elasticities for the same group of countries, or even the same country, over time. For example, the IMF downgraded its 2017 GDP growth forecast for Venezuela to -12% from -7.4% in just three months, as the fallout from lower oil prices developed in a nonlinear fashion.

“Despite incidences of the severe economic hardship as seen in Venezuela after the oil price slump, the absence of evidence of a positive causal relationship between low oil prices in 2014-2016 and global economic activity does not mean that it is not there in some form,” Van der Welle surmises.

“Events usually play out with variable and long lags, especially in economic analysis. So, why wouldn’t the global cyclical upswing the world has been enjoying at least partly be due to the 2014-2016 oil price slump? In early 2016, the IMF said the ‘shot in the arm’ for the global economy accruing from low oil prices had yet to materialize, as paradoxically, the benefits would appear once oil prices had recovered somewhat.”

“The reason for the surmised delay was that the oil supply shock had occurred in a low-growth environment, where central banks had already run into the ‘zero lower-bound’ problem – they were unable to further reduce nominal interest rates in order to stimulate the global economy. In this situation, falling oil prices lower inflation and raise real interest rates, choking off economic activity.”

Recovery effects

Conversely, a recovery in oil prices would bring positive inflation surprises and the much-needed fall in real interest rates, spurring growth, he says. This can be seen in the graph below. “With hindsight, events have played out fairly well along these lines; we have experienced some reflation, and industrial production for OECD countries has indeed recovered as oil prices have rebounded,” Van der Welle explains.

“This in turn allowed the Fed to raise interest rates, moving away from the zero lower-bound problem. On the back of this, the decisive move away from the ‘bad equilibrium’ – the arrival of secular stagnation due to the zero lower-bound problem – has also fed optimism. This has become self-reinforcing, with producer confidence indices such as the German IFO indicator marking all-time highs in 2017.”

Van der Welle says there are other reasons why the positive response of economic activity to lower oil prices has been muted. The progressively higher taxation of gasoline in Europe has limited the ability of lower global crude oil prices to be passed on to lower retail gasoline prices, limiting the windfall available for European consumers.

“It all suggests that the perceived wisdom does not always manifest itself immediately,” he says.

Important information

This information is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation.
The contents of this document have not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”). Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services license for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such license.
An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

Logo

Important Information

Warning/Important note: This website contains information which is only available to qualified investors as defined below. If you are not a qualified investor, please click “I Disagree” to leave the website.

By clicking on "I agree", I declare that: 

  • I am a qualified investor as defined under 1
  • I have read and understood the Terms and Conditions and Disclaimers as described under 2

1 - This website may only be accessed directly or indirectly by the following persons in Singapore:

1) “institutional investor” under section 304 of the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289)(“SFA”), which means:
(i) the Government; (ii) a statutory board as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (iii) an entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by a central government of a country and whose principal activity is (A) to manage its own funds; (B) to manage the funds of the central government of that country (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country); or (C) to manage the funds (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country) of another entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of that country; (iv) any entity (A) that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of a country; and (B) whose funds are managed by an entity mentioned in sub-paragraph (iii); (v) a central bank in a jurisdiction other than Singapore; (vi) a central government in a country other than Singapore; (vii) an agency (of a central government in a country other than Singapore) that is incorporated or established in a country other than Singapore; (viii) a multilateral agency, international organisation or supranational agency as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (ix) a bank that is licensed under the Banking Act (Cap.19); (x) a merchant bank that is approved as a financial institution under section 28 of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186); (xi) a finance company that is licensed under the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108); (xii) a company or co-operative society that is licensed under the Insurance Act (Cap.142) to carry on insurance business in Singapore; (xiii) a company licensed under the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336); (xiv) a holder of a capital markets services licence; (xv) an approved exchange; (xvi) a recognised market operator; (xvii) an approved clearing house; (xviii) a recognised clearing house; (xix) a licensed trade repository; (xx) a licensed foreign trade repository; (xxi) an approved holding company; (xxii) a Depository as defined in section 81SF of the SFA; (xxiii) an entity or a trust formed or incorporated in a jurisdiction other than Singapore, which is regulated for the carrying on of any financial activity in that jurisdiction by a public authority of that jurisdiction that exercises a function that corresponds to a regulatory function of the Authority under this Act, the Banking Act (Cap.19), the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108), the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186), the Insurance Act (Cap.142), the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336) or such other Act as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (xxiv) a pension fund, or collective investment scheme, whether constituted in Singapore or elsewhere; (xxv) a person (other than an individual) who carries on the business of dealing in bonds with accredited investors or expert investors; (xxvi) the trustee of such trust as the Authority may prescribe, when acting in that capacity; or; (xxvii) such other person as the Authority may prescribe.

2) “relevant person” under section 305(1) of the SFA, which means:
(i) An accredited investor; (ii) a corporation the sole business of which is to hold investments and the entire share capital of which is owned by one or more individuals, each of whom is an accredited investor; (iii) a trustee of a trust the sole purpose of which is to hold investments and each beneficiary of which is an individual who is an accredited investor; (iv) an officer or equivalent person of the person making the offer (such person being an entity) or a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of that officer or equivalent person; or (v) a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of the person making the offer (such person being an individual).

3) any person who acquires the units [in a collective investment scheme] as principal if the offer is on terms that the units may only be required at a consideration of not less than $200,000 (or its equivalent in a foreign currency) for each transaction, whether such amount is to be paid for in cash or by exchange of units in a collective investment scheme, securities, securities-based derivatives contracts or other assets, and if the following condition is satisfied: (i) the offer is not accompanied by an advertisement making an offer or calling attention to the offer or intended offer; (ii) no selling or promotional expenses are paid or incurred in connection with the offer other than those incurred for administrative or professional services, or by way of commission or fee for services rendered by any of the persons specified in section 302B(1)(d)(i) to (vi) of the SFA; and (iii) no prospectus in respect of the offer has been registered by the Authority or, where a prospectus has been registered (A) the prospectus has eAccxpired pursuant to section 299 of the SFA; or (B) the person making the offer has before making the offer 1. informed the Authority by notice in writing of its intent to make the offer in reliance on the exemption under this subsection; and 2. taken reasonable steps to inform in writing the person to whom the offer is made that the offer is made in reliance on the exemption under this subsection.

4) Or otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA.

If you are not any of the types of persons described above, you are not authorized to enter this website and you should leave this website immediately.

2 Terms and Conditions
You acknowledge that you have read these Terms and Conditions (“Terms”) prior to accessing the website located at www.robeco.com/sg (“Website”) and you agree to be bound by the Terms.  If you do not agree to all of the Terms, you are not an authorised user and you should not use the Website. The Website is owned by Robeco Singapore Private Limited (company registration number: UEN. 201541306Z), which is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) pursuant to the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289) (“SFA”) of Singapore, and is managed by Robeco Singapore Private Limited and/or its affiliates (collectively, as “Robeco”). The Website is intended for and should be accessed by institutional investors or accredited investors (as defined under Section 4A of the SFA) of Singapore.  The Website is not directed to, or intended for distribution to or use by, any person or entity who is a citizen or resident of or located in any locality, state, country or other jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, availability or use would be contrary to law or regulation or which would subject the Robeco to any registration or licensing requirement within such jurisdiction.  It is your responsibility to observe all applicable laws, rules and regulations of any relevant jurisdiction. The content contained in the Website is owned by Robeco and/or its information providers and is protected by applicable copyrights, trademarks, service marks, and/or other intellectual property rights.  You may not copy, distribute, modify, post, frame or link the Website, including any text, graphics, video, audio, software code, user interface, design or logos.  You may not distribute, modify, transmit, reuse, repost, or use the content of the Website for public or commercial use, including all text, images, audio and/or video.  Robeco may terminate your access to the Website for any reason, without prior notice. Neither Robeco, nor any of its associates, nor any director, officer or employee accepts any liability whatsoever for any loss arising directly or indirectly from the access of the Website.  You agree to indemnity and hold Robeco, its associates, directors, officers or employees harmless against any and all claims, losses, liability, costs and expenses arising from your use of the Website due to violation of the Terms. Robeco reserves the right to change, modify, add or remove any parts of the Terms at any time and for any reason.  The Terms shall deemed to be effective immediately upon posting. The Terms shall be governed by, and shall be construed in accordance with, the law of Singapore.

Disclaimers
The Website has not been reviewed by the MAS. Accordingly, the Website may not be accessed directly or indirectly to persons in Singapore other than (i) to an institutional investor under Section 304 of the SFA, (ii) to a relevant person pursuant to Section 305(1), or any person pursuant to Section 305(2), and in accordance with the conditions specified in Section 305, of the SFA, or (iii) otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA. 

Nothing in the Website constitutes tax, accounting, regulatory, legal or investment advice.  The Website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation or for the purpose of soliciting any action in relation to Robeco’s businesses, or solicitation by anyone in any jurisdiction in which such an offer or solicitation is not authorised or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer and solicitation. Any reproduction or distribution of information from the Website, in whole or in part, or the disclosure of its contents, without the prior written consent of Robeco, is prohibited.  By accessing to the Website, you agree to the foregoing.  

The funds referred to in the Website are for information only.  It is not a recommendation or investment advice, nor does it mean the funds is suitable for all investors.  The contents of the website is not reviewed by the MAS.  Any decision to participate in the funds should be made only after reviewing the sections regarding investment considerations, conflicts of interest, risk factors and the relevant Singapore selling restrictions.  You should consult your professional adviser if you are in doubt about the stringent restrictions applicable to the use of the Website, regulatory status of the funds, applicable regulatory protection, associated risks and suitability of the funds to your objectives.

Any decisions made based on the information contained in the Website are the sole responsibility of yours.  Any investments made or to be made shall be with your independent analyses based on your financial situation and objectives.  The investments and strategies contained in the Website may not be suitable for all investors and are not guaranteed by Robeco.  

Investment involves risks and may lose value.  Historical returns are provided for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily reflect Robeco’s expectations for the future.  The value of your investments may fluctuate.  Past performance is no indication of current or future performance.  The Website may contain projections or other forward looking statements regarding future events or future financial performance of countries, markets or companies and such projection or forecast is not indicative of the future.  The information contained in the Website, including any data, projections and underlying assumptions are based upon certain assumptions, management forecasts and analysis of information available on an “as is” basis and without warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, and reflects prevailing conditions and Robeco’s views as of the date published or indicated, and maybe superseded by subsequent events or for other reasons.  The information contained in the Website are accordingly subject to change at any time without notice and Robeco are under no obligation to notify you of any of these changes.  Robeco expressly disclaims all liability for errors and omissions in the information presented in the Website and for the use or interpretation by others of information contained in the Website.

Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services licence for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such licence.  An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

I Disagree