The oil industry’s troubles aren’t bad enough to trigger another global crisis — John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

From MarketWatch

The crash in the price of oil — from $108 a barrel in June 2014 to below $27 earlier this year — has rattled the stock market, triggered layoffs across the energy sector, and plunged many oil producing countries into crisis.

Oil has since rebounded significantly from its lows, to above $40 a barrel, but the price plunge since 2014 has put much pressure on oil companies. Reports have pointed to an increase in debt among oil producers, raising the specter of default on bankruptcy and default on debt, withfollow-on effects beyond oil producers.

The upheaval also has sparked fears that oil’s troubles will spread across the globe, echoing the crash in U.S. housing markets that pushed the world economy to the brink of collapse in 2008. Yet despite the woes oil is experiencing, it is unlikely that the repercussions will trigger another global financial crisis.

Looking at the numbers, the mortgage-debt crisis dwarfs what is currently happening in oil. According to a report in the Financial Times, the global oil and gas industry’s debts rose to  $3 trillion from $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2014. Compare that to the $10 trillion of housing debt weighing on Americans in 2008.

Aside from the numbers, the impact will be different because of the nature of the oil industry and the role oil plays in the world economy. Boom and bust have been features of the oil business for many years. Companies that have been around for awhile understand this, and have learned to adapt. Responding to earlier crises, they made significant cuts and improved efficiency. Because they run lean operations, these companies are better prepared to weather downturns. Also, the major players in the oil industry are not highly leveraged, and thus we have not seen anything like the cascade of failures among lenders and suppliers that made the housing bust so damaging.

Read the full post at MarketWatch.

John Reilly is the co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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