By Justin Spittler
The oil price crash continues to claim victims…and many of them are in Canada.
The price of oil hovered around $100 for most of last summer. Today, it’s trading for less than $45.
Weak oil prices have pummeled huge oil companies. The SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (XOP), which tracks the performance of major U.S. oil producers, has declined 36% over the past year. The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH), which tracks U.S. oil services companies, has declined 30% since last November.
Weak oil prices have even pushed entire countries to the brink. Saudi Arabia, which produces more oil than any country in the world, is on track to post its first budget deficit since 2009 this year. If oil prices stay low, the country could burn through its massive $650 million pile of foreign reserves within five years.
• Oil’s collapse is also creating big problems for Canada’s economy...
Canada is the world’s sixth largest oil producer. Oil makes up 25% of its exports.
Last month, The Conference Board of Canada said it expects sales for Canada’s energy sector to fall 22% this year. It also expects the industry to record a net loss of about C$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2015. That’s a drastic change from last year, when the industry booked a C$6 billion ($4.5 billion) profit.
Major oil firms are slashing spending to cope with low prices. Last month, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A) said it would stop construction on an 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) project in western Canada. The company had already abandoned another 200,000 bpd project in northern Canada earlier this year.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that Canadian oil and gas companies have laid off 36,000 workers since last summer. Most of these layoffs happened in the province of Alberta...
• For the past decade, Alberta was Canada’s fastest growing province...
Its economy exploded, thanks to the booming market for Canadian tar sands.
Tar sand is a gooey sand and oil mixture that melts down with heat from burning natural gas. More than half of Canada’s oil production comes from tar sands. In Alberta, they account for 75% of oil production.
Tar sand is generally more expensive to produce than conventional crude oil. Canadian tar sand projects made sense when oil hovered around $100. But many of these projects can’t make money when oil trades for $45/barrel. Last year, Scotiabank (BNS) said the average breakeven point for new Canadian oil sand projects was around $65/barrel.
This is why giant oil companies are walking away from projects they’ve spent years and billions of dollars developing.
• All these cancelled oil projects are making Alberta’s economy unravel...
Alberta lost 63,500 jobs from the start of year through August. It hasn’t lost that many jobs during the first eight months of the year since the Great Recession.
The decline in oil production is also draining government resources. Last month, Reuters reported that Alberta was on track to post a $4.6 billion budget deficit this year. Economists say it could be another five years before Alberta runs a budget surplus.
The crisis isn’t confined to the oil patches either…
• A real estate crisis is unfolding in Calgary...
Calgary is home to 1.2 million people. It’s the largest city in Alberta and the third largest in Canada.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg Business reported that Calgary’s property market is starting to crack:
Vacancy is already at a five-year high in Calgary and rents are the lowest since 2006 after thousands of office jobs were cut.
In downtown Calgary, the vacancy rate jumped to 14 percent in the third quarter, the highest since 2010 and compared with 5 percent for downtown Toronto, according to CBRE Group Inc. .... That doesn’t include as much as 2 million square feet of so-called "shadow vacancy" or space leased but sitting empty, which would push vacancy to 16 percent, the most since the mid-1980s.
Demand for office space is falling because of massive layoffs in the oil industry. That’s because oil companies didn’t just lay off roughnecks. They also laid off oil traders and middle managers, which means they need a lot less office space.
According to Bloomberg Business, a principal at one Calgary real estate office called the situation “a bloodbath” and said “we’re at the highest point of fear and uncertainty now.”
• Casey readers know the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets...
But it looks like Calgary’s property crisis is just getting started.
Bloomberg Business reports that the city has five new office towers in the works. These projects will add about 3.8 million square feet to Calgary’s office market over the next three years. More office space will only put more pressure on rents and occupancy rates.
Real estate developers likely planned these projects because they thought Canada’s oil boom would last. It’s that same thinking that made oil companies invest billions of dollars in projects that can’t make money when oil trades for less than $100/barrel.
• Doug Casey saw this coming...
In September, Doug went to Alberta to assess the damage first-hand. E.B. Tucker, editor of The Casey Report, joined Doug on the trip.
Doug and E.B. spoke with the locals. They even tried to buy a Ferrari. They shared their experience in the October issue of The Casey Report...
E.B. went on record saying Canada was in for “a major wakeup call.” He still thinks that’s the case. In fact, he thinks the situation is going to get a lot worse.
When we were in Alberta, we heard over and over again "It'll come right back...it always does." It's not coming back.
I expect the situation to get worse. And I see the Canadian dollar going much lower.
When that happens, E.B. thinks Canada’s central bank might do something it’s never done before:
Vacancy rates are rising in Canada’s heartland cities. Jobs in Alberta are disappearing. Unemployment is climbing. And there’s still a global oversupply in oil. None of this bodes well for Canada’s economy.
Canada’s economy is in a midair stall. The locals certainly didn’t grasp this when we visited Alberta last month. That's usually the case when things are going from bad to a lot worse.
If you’re a central banker in Canada looking at the data, there’s only one decision: print...
• E.B. says Canada’s central bank will launch its own quantitative easing (QE) program...
QE is when a central bank creates money and pumps it into the financial system. It’s basically another term for money printing.
Since 2008, the Fed has used QE to inject $3.5 trillion into the U.S. financial system. If the Fed’s experience with QE is any indication, money printing wouldn’t help Canada’s “real” economy much. But it would inflate asset prices. That, in turn, would only make Canada’s economy even more fragile.
E.B. is confident the situation in Canada will get worse. And he can’t wait to go back to Canada to collect on bets he made during his last visit:
Doug and I made a lot of side bets with business owners during our visit. One of them promised to sell us a Ferrari if things got worse...that's how sure he was that we were wrong. Looks like we'll be headed back to collect on that one...
You can read all about Doug and E.B.’s visit to Alberta by signing up for a risk-free trial of The Casey Report. You’ll even discover how to make money off the oil industry, despite the collapse in the price of oil. Click here to learn more.