The biggest macro-economic event in the past year has been the collapse in crude oil prices. Since mid-July, WTI crude oil spot prices are down over 50%.
Crude is the most liquid (no pun intended) and most analyzed commodity on the planet. Its covered exhaustively by a wide array of shareholders and stakeholders; public and private oil producers and consumers, physical traders, banks, and geopolitical think tanks just to name a few. This is why the most interesting aspect about this huge move in crude is that no one foresaw the magnitude or velocity of this decline. Bloomberg had an article back in December on the hedging strategy of some U.S. shale drillers which showed that those companies certainly did not anticipate a decline in crude prices like what we’ve seen.
Back in the day, macroeconomists used one of two models to think about how central banks steer economies. For a big economy, with modest international trade and capital flows, the model ignored the rest of the world. The central bank, by changing liquidity conditions, raised and lowered interest rates. Changing interest rate levels drove interest sensitive sectors up and down, thereby tightening or loosening slack in the economy. Inflation rose or fell, depending upon the tightness or slack in domestic markets. For a small economy, with large international trade and capital flows, the model highlighted rest of the world dynamics. In this model, global capital markets set the interest rate. The central bank, by changing liquidity conditions, raised or lowered the value of the currency. A rising currency would restrain growth and weigh on inflation. A currency in retreat would do the opposite. The U.S. was the poster child for the large closed economy. Canada was the prototypical small open economy. Continue reading