Low gas prices are not good for consumers or the US economy. Remember back in late 2015 and early 2016 when oil prices fell which pushed down the price of gas?
We had headlines in the MSM that lower oil prices were a big boost to consumers and so consumer spending was going to rise. It didn’t happen that way.
Gas Prices and Jobs
Lower gas prices mean lower profits for the energy sector which provides good paying jobs for millions of Americans. It’s not just direct energy sector companies either. Real-estate in and around major oil fields saw a crushing drop and mortgage default rates surged when oil drilling rigs went idol back in 2015 and 2016.
Lower gas prices are a net loss for the US economy because of the loss of jobs that accompanies the price drop. While we fell for the MSM headlines back in 2015 and 2016, let’s not fall for it again. Lower prices at the pump do not result in a meaningful increase in consumer spending.
Gas Prices Pull Down The Stock Market
Lower fuel costs pull down the stock market and not just in the US either but around the world. If oil prices were to average $40 a barrel this year, oil-exporting countries would have to sell upwards of $100 billion in various investments to cover their balance of payments deficits. We know this because it’s exactly what happened in late 2015 and early 2016 when oil fell.
It’s not just oil-exporting countries that would be selling. Oil is the primary holding of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Those oil positions extend margin credit to fund managers who use that margin to buy appreciating assets around the world. When oil goes down, it’s like a giant global margin call that goes out and forces fund managers to reduce positions or infuse new money into the fund to meet the margin call.
According to JPMorgan’s estimates, a $40 average Brent price this year would result in the sale of $67 billion in government bonds, $24 billion in equities and another $19 billion in corporate bonds, hedge funds and cash over the course of the year.
Charting margin debt (red line), West Texas Intermediate (brown line), and the S&P 500 (blue line), you can see the effect that oil prices have.
Notice how oil leads both margin debt and by extension the S&P 500.
Not only does the black gold pull down the stock market via the reduction of margin debt, it also results in lower earnings and hence the earnings recession we experienced in 2015. You can see this relationship by charting S&P 500 earnings (green line) over the price of oil and margin debt.
Oil began plunging in 2014 and that drop showed up in earnings about 6 months later. Notice that when oil turned up in February of 2016, earnings again turned up about 6 months later.
Low gas prices are not good for consumers or the US economy. Traders need to watch the price of oil. It’s all about the oil. So goes oil, so goes the US economy.