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Will Trump be good or bad for the oil price?

Will Trump be good or bad for the oil price?
Trump's mooted policies continue to move markets ahead of his inauguration

So, US Steel says it might restore 10,000 lost jobs in the United States, employment which was originally let go in the face of Chinese competition.

This type of statement comes as music to the ears of Donald Trump supporters, and in their minds at least will scatter the arguments of liberal opponents with hard facts.

Jobs for unemployed US workers are far more tangible than moral outrage at late-night and politically incorrect tweets. If one must go with the other, surely it’s better to take the jobs, especially in those sorts of numbers?

There are provisos of course. US Steel’s statement was one of intent only, a precise timeline is unlikely to materialise. So, aside from the vague optimism of chief executive Mario Longhi, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

In this case, attention has turned to the preservation or otherwise of the 400 or so jobs that are currently at risk at US Steel’s Keetac taconite mine in Minnesota.

Ore from this mine feeds the Granite City steelworks near St. Louis, which in turn specialises in producing pipeline for the oil industry.

But that raises its own questions. The iron ore price is as high as its been for four years now, partly on renewed demand from China and partly as a result of the effect of Trump’s statements on infrastructure spending and the repatriation of jobs and capital to the USA.

Well and good. But, as with gold, the oil price hasn’t exactly soared away on the Trump victory. Here again, the US election result has produced an unexpected outcome: the re-emergence, if only temporarily, of OPEC as a serious force in setting prices.

If oil prices go up, then in the near term it will be OPEC that takes the credit, not Trump. And  indeed, Trump himself wouldn’t want oil to go that high, however much it might help the taconite miners at Keetac.

Because there’s nothing US consumers hate more than paying top dollar for their gasoline. Without cars, America has an identity crisis. And given that household budgets are already under severe pressure, any run on oil will inevitably be bad for Trump.

This means that he’s likely to be very supportive of new oil technologies and new infrastructure developments, especially within the USA. A statement of intent comes with the appointment of climate change sceptic Scott Prewitt to head up the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the past Prewitt has challenged EPA legislation in the courts, so there’s a clear sense that the oil industry may be in for an easier ride. So it’s a mixed blessing for the miners at Keetac. On the one hand, the Trump administration is likely to green-light oil infrastructure projects with an alacrity not seen under President Obama, whose prevarication over the Keystone pipeline became an incendiary issue for both sides of the environmental divide.

But on the other hand, Trump and his team will want to keep oil prices low so that the minimum amount of damage is inflicted on his constituents’ wallets when they visit the gas station.

The simple idea is that those who voted Trump will get paid more for making more things, but pay less for the essential goods that go into their own shopping trolleys.

It’s an interesting economic experiment to undertake in the 21st Century, given the decidedly mixed track record of such policies in the 20th Century. Because if people are being paid more, the stuff they make is likely to cost more too, which is likely to drive inflation, and reduce the competitiveness of US goods abroad.

And that’s already taken a pretty big hit because of the strength of the US dollar. So it becomes all about the home market. It’s long been said that the strength of the US has been the sheer size and scale of its internal market – take note Brexiteers – so Trump may well pull it off.

Keeping the oil price low will be one key element of this. Not starting a war will be another.

 

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