Low oil prices left Alberta with a massive deficit

Alberta finance minister strikes positive tone despite downturn in provincial revenue.
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  June 30, 2016 at 8:52 AM
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CALGARY, Alberta, June 30 (UPI) -- An annual review of the budget for oil-rich Alberta found total revenue came in lower than budgeted, though the provincial finance minister was upbeat.

The decline in crude oil prices resulted in a 3.7 percent contraction in Alberta's economy.

"Energy companies significantly decreased investment this past year," the provincial government said in its latest review. "Corporate profits decreased and employment, wages and household incomes were all negatively influenced across the province."

Crude oil prices moved from about $105 per barrel in June 2014 to an average price the provincial government said was about $4 per barrel lower than it expected. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price for oil, dropped below $30 per barrel in early 2016, after settling in the mid-$40 range last year.

Total revenue for the provincial government came in last year at $32.7 billion, about $1 billion lower than budgeted. The annual report shows the government finished the year with almost a $5 billion deficit.

Nevertheless, provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the government managed to hold on to nearly $40 billion in assets. This, he said, meant Alberta has one of the strongest balance sheets in the country.

"Rather than firing more people and making reckless cuts, our province is now able to finish the 2015-16 year positioned to weather the current economic realities and future challenges," he said in a statement.

The credit rating for the provincial government was lowered this year by Moody's Investors Service, which characterized the debt burden as "unconstrained."

Ceci said it may take until the next decade to balance the provincial budget. The government now estimates revenue from non-renewable resources will be at its lowest level in 40 years.

The economy could show further damage because of wildfires that raged through parts of Alberta in May. Blazes that devastated parts of Fort McMurray idled about 1 million barrels per day worth of regional oil production.

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