The decision by Saudi Arabia at the recent OPEC summit in Vienna to keep oil production levels unchanged and a price below $80 dollars was a slap in the face to many emerging market nations, especially those looking to increase their energy portfolios. While the Saudis and the 12 members of the OPEC cartel can afford to sell below the mark and still balance their budgets, for countries such as Colombia, a glut in Middle East oil, could impact negatively much-needed foreign revenue next year for this US$ 380 billion economy.
After the Vienna announcement, the price of Brent oil slipped below US$73 a barrel and the price of the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate Crude oil also fell about US$5 to flatline at US$69 a barrel. The International Monetary Fund estimates that every US$10 drop in the price of oil boosts growth in the world by only 0.2 percent.
While oil prices tumble, those who benefit in the short haul are China with its sluggish economy and Europe with its slow road to recovery. As the price of oil accounts for more than half of Colombia’s exports, there are fears that royalties and tax earnings will decline in 2015; and a critical year for the nation when much-needed funds will be required by the National Government to fund a possible post-conflict scenario.
For local industry, a budget deficit can only translate into more taxes and next year, an important, but seemingly unpopular tax reform, will make its way through Congress inorder to plug US$26.2 billion into the economy over the next four years. But this Reforma Tributaria may be short lived, as in four years, another overhaul may be needed to fund social programs, education and an overburdened health system.
After the OPEC meeting, the seven members of the Colombia’s Central Bank, moved to leave the current lend- ing rate at 4.5 percent until their next meeting in January and hold off on the cost of borrowing. While more oil out- put and lower prices could help reduce the cost of air travel, the reality on the ground, is more sinister, forcing Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas to come up with creative measures to balance the budget for next year – and at time – when Colombia’s oil output remains less than the anticipated one million barrels per day. “We’re beginning to see certain nervousness with sales forecasts for small and medium size companies in 2015,” stated an independent financial analyst to The City Paper.“Even multinationals may have to cut margins to make up for the extra taxes.”
What tends to be on many minds as one year ends and another begins is the peso to dollar exchange rate. After years of a revalued currency, the peso could continue its slide into the 1Q, breaking through the 2,400 threshold.
So far, it seems unlikely that an equity crisis caused by oil is looming on the horizon, but a strong U.S recovery could make the Colombian peso much less attractive next year. So best to hold back on giving up your greenbacks.