Alberta's economy pinched by oil

All spending under review after Moody's downgrades credit rating, provincial finance minister says.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Jan. 19, 2016 at 5:43 AM
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EDMONTON, Alberta, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- With a downgrade to its credit rating from Moody's, the provincial finance minister in Alberta said there's "no question" low oil prices are taking a toll.

Moody's Investors Service changed the long-term debt rating from stable to negative, though the AAA rating remained in place. Without some form of corrective action, the province may be faced with a rapid rate of debt accumulation.

"The negative outlook for the province of Alberta reflects the rising risk that the province's fiscal position will deteriorate further than previously expected in an environment of protracted low oil prices and deterioration of economic activity," the credit rating service said in a statement.

Canada's economy relies heavily on the energy sector and nearly all of its oil and gas exports target a U.S. market less dependent on foreign reserves because of the shale boom. Lower export revenue and even lower crude oil prices are hurting exporting economies like Canada's.

"There is no question that Alberta's and the broader Canadian economies are now facing serious shocks," Finance Minister Joe Ceci said in a statement. "These shocks are having a serious effect on government revenues in all energy-producing jurisdictions -- including ours."

A provincial budget from October envisions a 2016-17 average price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price for crude oil, at $61 per barrel, more than double the current price. Under the best-case scenario, Moody's said the debt-to-revenue ratio could exceed 85 percent by 2018.

Ceci said that, while the government can't control oil prices, it can control its spending. As of now, the province has taken steps to stabilize its budget to protect vital services like healthcare and education.

"All government spending programs are under review," he said.

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