Biggest transfer of wealth in history coming soon?

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As oil prices plunge, wide-ranging effects for consumers and the global economy

By Steven Mufson December 1 at 9:26 PM

Tumbling oil prices are draining hundreds of billions of dollars from the coffers of oil-rich exporters and oil companies and injecting a much-needed boost for ailing economies in Europe and Japan — and for American consumers at the start of the peak shopping season.

The result could be one of the biggest transfers of wealth in history, potentially reshaping everything from talks over Iran’s nuclear program to the Federal Reserve’s policies to further rejuvenate the U.S. economy.

The price of oil has declined about 40 percent since its peak in mid-June and plunged last week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries voted to continue to pump at the same rate. That continued a trend driven by a weak global economy and expanding U.S. domestic energy supplies.

The question facing investors, companies and policymakers is how low oil prices will go — and for how long. Every day, American motorists are saving $630 million on gasoline compared with what they paid at June prices, and they would get a $230 billion windfall if prices were to stay this low for a year. The vast majority of that will flow into the economy, with lower-income households living on tight budgets likely to use money not otherwise spent on gas to buy groceries, clothing and other staples.

On Monday, the average U.S. price for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline was $2.77, according to AAA, which projects that prices could drop by an additional 10 to 20 cents.
(The Washington Post)
Big American companies are better off, too. Every penny the price of jet fuel declines means savings of $40 million for Delta Air Lines, the company’s chief executive said in a recent CBS interview.

“Despite the impressive recent gains in natural gas and crude oil production, the U.S. still is a net importer of energy,” William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said Monday at Bernard Baruch College. “As a result, falling energy prices are beneficial for our economy and should be a strong spur to consumer spending.”
Although falling oil prices lower inflation, the Federal Reserve tends to view that as a fleeting effect that would not alter its underlying judgments about policy. Nonetheless, Dudley said, “the slump in oil prices may also help to persuade” the European and Japanese central banks to implement further monetary easing as prices remain subdued.

The consequences of the decline in oil prices are also evident in politics and pocketbooks.

At current prices, the annual revenue of OPEC members would shrink by $590 billion, money that will instead stay within the borders of the world’s biggest oil importers, led by the United States, China and Japan.

The size of the global economy will “easily be between 0.5 percent and 1.0 percent higher as a result of the decline in oil prices,” wrote Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist for London-based Capital Economics.

The 40 percent drop in the price of the international benchmark Brent-grade crude oil over the past five months will reduce annual revenue to oil producers worldwide by a whopping $1.5 trillion.

“Those losses are staggering,” Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, wrote to investors Monday.

The losers include Russia, where the value of the ruble has been crumbling, inflation has crept up to more than an 8 percent rate and oil prices have done more to hurt the economy than Western sanctions.

In Iran, whose economy and government budget rely heavily on oil sales, low prices could intensify the effect of sanctions that have curbed the country’s oil exports in an effort to pressure the regime into reaching a diplomatic accord on its nuclear program.

DEMOCRATS BLOCK KEYSTONE PIPELINE

Democrats Block Keystone Bill, Landrieu’s Plea Rejected

(TOM PENNINGTON/Getty Images)

November 18, 2014 The Senate narrowly rejected legislation on Tuesday that would have authorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, dealing a bitter blow to politically imperiled Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu less than a month before her Dec. 6 runoff election.

The vote was 59-41 on the legislation, which easily passed the House last week.

The fate of the heavily lobbied bill, which required 60 votes to pass, was uncertain until final votes were counted. And ultimately, despite the senator’s assurances to the contrary, Landrieu was not able to garner the votes needed for passage.

Going into the vote, Landrieu knew she had 59 Senators supporting her motion, but it was never clear where she’d get number 60. Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin was seen as one of Landrieu’s last options, but he voted no on the bill.

The bill has become intertwined with the political struggles of the Louisiana Democrat as she faces an uphill battle in her bid for reelection against GOP challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.

 Senate Democratic leaders, after long preventing votes on Keystone, last week agreed to a floor showdown at the behest of Landrieu, a co-sponsor of the pro-Keystone legislation, who is seeking to show that she can deliver on pro-oil policies in a state where the petroleum industry is a big part of the economy.
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But Capitol Hill Republicans, while unanimously backing the pipeline, have sought to prevent Landrieu from gaining political traction from the unexpected lame-duck Keystone fight. The latest House Keystone bill that passed last week was sponsored by Landrieu’s foe Cassidy.

Landrieu insisted she could secure 60 votes needed to pass the legislation with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate as late as Tuesday morning. But despite the willingness of Senate leadership to allow a vote on the bill, Landrieu was not able to persuade enough Democrats to side with her in a vote to approve the pipeline.

The White House did not issue a formal veto threat on the project, but the president hinted in the days leading up to the vote that he would veto the legislation.

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday: “It certainly is a piece of legislation that the president doesn’t support.”

Legislation green-lighting the oil sands project is certain to come to Obama’s desk next year, however, when Republicans take the reins in the Senate. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to move swiftly to authorize the pipeline.

TransCanada Corp.’s project would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day from oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It would also carry oil from the booming Bakken formation in North Dakota.

Keystone is a big priority for Republicans and industry groups that have lobbied aggressively in favor of the pipeline. But it’s a political headache for Obama, and for Democrats in general, who are divided over the project.

Many labor unions back Keystone, but environmentalists–another pillar of Obama’s political base–bitterly oppose it and have mounted an aggressive campaign in recent years that has included numerous protests.

The Obama administration has spent six years weighing the project, and the president has repeatedly said in recent days that he wants to let the review play out. The president has also made critical comments about the project on his recent trip to Asia, buoying environmentalists.

“I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices,” he told reporters in Myanmar four days ago.

Landrieu

Obama has also said that he will not approve Keystone unless he’s certain that building the project would not significantly increase carbon emissions.

Republicans, who have said the project is an economic win that will boost U.S. energy security, used the debate to increase political pressure on the White House over Keystone.

“I say to President Obama, time is up, and the excuses have run out. It is time for you, Mr. President, to make a decision,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who is part of the GOP leadership team, during the floor debate Tuesday. Republican Sen. John Thune, who is also in leadership, noted that the pipeline has bipartisan support in Congress, and he said the Keystone opponents are “members of the far-left wing of the Democratic party.”

Environmentalists and Democrats against the project argue that Keystone will worsen global warming by serving as a catalyst for rapid expansion of carbon-intensive oil sands production in Canada.

“To protect the planet from catastrophic global warming, we need to leave four-fifths of the identified conventional fossil-fuel reserves in the ground,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, ahead of the vote. “But building the Keystone pipeline would open the faucet to rapid exploitation of a massive new unconventional reserve–that is, the tar sands–making it much less likely for human civilization to succeed in meeting that carbon budget that is so important to our future economic and environmental world.”

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But a major State Department environmental analysis published in January generally rebutted claims that the pipeline is a linchpin for growing oil-sands production.

It concluded that construction of Keystone–one of several new oil-sands pipelines that companies are proposing–is unlikely to affect the rate of oil-sands expansion. That’s because growing use of railways to move oil can pick up the slack, even though moving oil by rail is more expensive.

However, State’s analysis also predicts that if no new pipelines are built to handle expanded oil-sands production, oil prices remaining in the $65-$75 per barrel range could curtail production, but the study calls this unlikely. Oil prices have been falling for months, and West Texas Intermediate crude oil is currently trading at around $75 per barrel.

The Energy Department’s statistical arm this month estimated that oil will average $78 per barrel in 2015, which is well below its previous forecast.