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With Oil Price Volatility, Recent Economic Gains In U.S. Oil-Producing States Are At Risk

With Oil Price Volatility, Recent Economic Gains In U.S. Oil-Producing States Are At Risk

Over the past year, economic performance among oil-producing states stabilized following a lingering economic downturn that began in mid-2014. A changing economic outlook and a wide range of fiscal adjustments resulted in an easing of the negative pressure facing overall state credit quality. However, recent declines in oil prices threaten to unsettle some of that stability, bringing back unease for oil-producing states. Consistent with S&P Global Ratings' long-held view, outsized budget reserves in several of the oil-producing states provided an effective fiscal cushion as they transitioned to face the effects of lower oil prices.

Oil Price Outlook

The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price per barrel (bbl) averaged $65.19 in 2018 compared with $50.87 in 2017. Over the past year, prices increased steadily to $76.41 in October before declining over the fourth quarter. The trend's reversal contributed to S&P Global Ratings lowering its average annual price assumptions for Brent and WTI crude oil for 2019 by $10 per barrel (/bbl) and for 2020 by $5/bbl (see table 1 and chart 1).

The reversal reflects an oversupply in the market. OPEC nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and Russia, increased production to offset the effects of what was expected to be a meaningful reduction in global supply from Iran economic sanctions. However, the sanctions fell short of expectations. Additional repercussions from the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, news of China's economic slowdown, and increasing U.S. production reflecting growth from shale also contributed to the reversal in prices. (For more information, see "S&P Global Ratings Lowers Brent And WTI Oil Price Assumptions For 2019 Through 2020; Natural Gas Price Assumptions Are Unchanged," published Jan. 3, 2019, on RatingsDirect.)

Table 1

S&P Global Ratings' Oil And Natural Gas Price Assumptions
--New prices-- --Old prices--
Brent WTI Henry Hub Brent WTI Henry Hub
$/bbl $/mil. Btu $/bbl $/mil. Btu
2019 55 50 3 65 60 3
2020 55 50 3 60 55 3
2021 and beyond 55 55 3 55 55 3
Prices are rounded to the nearest $5/bbl and $0.25/million Btu. bbl--Barrel. WTI--West Texas Intermediate. See also "S&P Global Ratings Lowers Brent And WTI Oil Price Assumptions For 2019 Through 2020; Natural Gas Price Assumptions Are Unchanged," published Jan. 3, 2019, on RatingsDirect.

Chart 1


Oil State Economies Are Likely To See Further Growth In 2019

For the first time in over three years, all oil-producing states are projected to have economic growth in 2019. Alaska has contended with a lingering recession for longest, but we expect its economy to expand this year. IHS Markit projects the state's recovering natural resources and mining sector will lead growth over the next five years, with average annual gains of 4.3%. However, energy sector underperformance could cause more muted gains.

In 2019, we expect economic growth to continue for all states (see table 2), though Alaska will remain among the 10 slowest-expanding, while Texas, North Dakota, and Wyoming could emerge at the top. In Texas, oil exploration has been on the upswing since mid-2016 with rig counts surging to 520 in early January 2018 from 173 in May 2016. The state's positive demographic trends, economic diversity, and continuing strong job growth should allow it to perform well this year. Wyoming and North Dakota have emerged from the energy-induced recession. Both have posted strong gains in the natural resources and mining sector (see chart 2), which has resulted in related improvement in construction, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing.

Table 2

Real Gross State Product Data For Major Oil-Producing States
Year-Over-Year Real Gross State Product
2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018e 2018-2019p
Growth rate Rank Growth rate Rank Growth rate Rank Growth rate Rank
Alaska (1.95) 47 (0.50) 47 (0.36) 50 1.54 47
Louisiana (1.28) 46 (0.81) 49 2.09 28 2.34 22
Montana (0.87) 44 0.33 39 2.66 17 2.08 29
New Mexico 0.04 41 0.13 44 1.25 41 2.02 31
North Dakota (6.46) 51 (0.55) 48 1.88 32 3.36 2
Oklahoma (2.67) 48 0.71 36 1.70 34 2.52 14
Texas 0.25 36 1.33 31 3.51 8 3.51 1
Wyoming (3.62) 50 1.38 29 1.09 43 3.25 3
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis; IHS Markit; S&P Global Ratings. Real gross state product (2012 US$, SAAR). Ranks are shown from 1 (fastest growth) to 50 (slowest growth) .

Chart 2


Prospects For Continuing Job Growth Could Decelerate In 2019

The workforce reductions by oil producers and the accompanying service sector employers leveled off in 2017 and continued to improve in 2018. However, poor demographic trends for a number of oil-producing states will cause them to continue lagging the nation in job growth. Over the next year, we expect mining jobs to continue rebounding in oil-producing states (see chart 3), with related sectors improving. Offsetting this potential are global energy supply risks that could create economic risks. We don't expect the welcomed price recovery in oil over the past year to continue at the same pace in 2019, which could lead to decelerating job growth in the sector.

Chart 3


Isolating Oil's Effects On State Budgets

Below, we have provided an updated table summarizing the key price assumptions and the eight main oil-producing states' levels of direct fiscal dependence on oil-related revenue (see table 3). However, a relatively low direct reliance on oil-related revenue does not inoculate a state's budget from the fiscal fallout related to an overall slowing economy. Nevertheless, states with a heavy direct reliance on oil-related revenue have to contend with some of the most immediate budgetary challenges:

  • What oil price did the state assume in its budget?
  • How much does the state's operating budget rely on oil-related tax revenue?
  • Did the state accumulate reserves while oil prices were high?

Table 3

Key Data for Major Oil-Producing States
Fiscal 2019 Fiscal 2020
Price assumption at budget enactment ($/barrel) Price assumption (revised) ($/barrel) Oil-related revs as % of operating revs Reserves as % of expenditures Price assumption ($/barrel) Oil-related revs as % of operating revs Reserves as % of expenditures
Alaska* 63.00 68.00 47 298 64.00 36 N.A.
Louisiana** 62.90 63.40 8 3 60.50 7.3 N.A.
Montana§ 47.00 60.43 2 7




New Mexico† 52.00 49.50 15 13 52.00 15.9 N/A
North Dakota‡ 52.00 58.00 9 25 42.50 20.26 N/A
Oklahoma*** 51.00 53.00 6 1 53.08 5.19 10.5
Texas§§ 53.00 - 5 24 50.00 5 N.A.
Wyoming†† 50.00 45.00 13 N/A 50.00 40 70.3
N/A--Not applicable. N.A.--Not available. * Alaska's reserve for fiscal 2019 is based on $16.1 billion available in the Earnings Reserve Account at fiscal year-end 2018 and approximately $2 billion estimated in the Constitutional Budget Reserve. **Louisiana's data as presented to the Revenue Estimating Conference on Nov. 27, 2018. §Montana assumes WTI oil prices adjusted for transportation discount. Montana's revenue includes oil and gas.The state budgets on a biennial basis. †New Mexico's figures are from the state Legislative Finance Committee mid-2018 budget session forecast. New Mexico oil-related revenue percentage includes oil-, natural gas-, and other mining-related revenue attributable to the general fund from combined severance tax and mineral leasing and royalties as a percentage of recurring general fund revenue. §§Texas' oil-gas related revenue as a percentage of operating revenues excludes federal revenue and other dedicated revenue. In November of each year, transfer is made from the general revenue fund equal to 75% of the excess of the prior fiscal year net collections for oil and natural gas production taxes over 1987 collections. The transfer amount of each production tax is calculated separately and must be in excess of the 1987 threshold. Reserve percentages for Texas are based on the biennial revenue estimate as the biennia appropriations are not yet available. Reserve levels refect the actual fiscal 2018 beginning balance of $12.5 billion. ††Wyoming budgets on a biennial basis. Percentages are calculated based on annualized biennium revenues or expenditures for comparability and include the general fund, the legislative stabilization reserve account, the budget reserve account, and the school foundation program. Wyoming's fiscal year-end 2019 fund balance projection is not available because the state does not make mid-biennium projections. Wyoming's price assumptions for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 are for the calendar year, not the fiscal year. Wyoming's percentage of revenue is for total severance taxes (including oil, natural gas, coal, and trona) and federal mineral royalties in each fiscal year as a percentage of annualized biennium combined general fund and budget reserve account revenue. *** Oklahoma revenue and reserve assumptions are based on the proposed 2020 executive budget and the state Board of Equalization's February 2019 revenue certification (revised from December 2018 estimates). ‡ North Dakota's total oil and gas-related revenue reflects the legislative appropriation for the 2017-2019 biennium and proposed biennial budget (2019-2021) executive request totaling $1 billion. Estimated fiscal 2020 oil price based on forecast approved unanimously by House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees for 2019-2021 biennium. This is revised downward from the executive budget forecast assuming prices starting at $46/bbl in August and increasing to $50/bbl by the end the first fiscal year, where it was forecasted to stay through the remainder of the biennium. Total available reserves for the biennium include the general fund, budgetary stabilization fund, strategic investments and improvements fund, and 15% of the estimated principal balance for the legacy fund. The state's estimated legacy fund ending balance for the 2017-2019 biennium is $5.86 billion; the legislature may appropriate up to 15% of the principal and all of the interest of the fund in any biennium.
Alaska (AA/Stable)

Alaska's proposed fiscal 2020 budget favors austerity and limits its reserve use compared with prior years. Proposed general fund revenue totals $4.7 billion, which includes $1.7 billion (36% of revenue) of petroleum-related revenue, withdrawal from the Earnings Reserve Account (ERA) of $989 million (21%), restricted revenue of $933 million (20%), and new revenue from eliminating a municipal tax credit on oil and gas properties of $420 million (9%). Compared to the fiscal 2019 management plan, expenditures would fall approximately 25% across various government departments.

We expect revenue to be stable, because the proposal continues using the state's vast ERA ($16.1 billion as of June 30, 2018) as revenue. Unlike prior budgets, there is no planned use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund (CBRF) to mitigate the deficit. We view stabilizing reserve levels in the CBRF and the ERA's use as recurring revenue for deficit mitigation positively, although potential limits on budgetary flexibility could pose issues.

For fiscal 2019, the state's adopted budget includes using $674 million from its CBRF. However, updated figures estimate that number might be closer to $282 million after oil prices increased above estimates during the year. The amount of reserves the state draws on for the year will ultimately depend on oil-related prices and production over the next several months. Overall, we expect Alaska oil production to increase in 2019 and 2020 due to new North Slope oil discoveries being brought online.

For more information, see "Alaska’s 2020 Executive Budget Proposal Favors Austerity and Limited Reserve Use," published Feb. 27, 2019.

Louisiana (AA-/Stable)

A year removed from the uncertainty surrounding Louisiana's revenue and economic trajectory, the state continues to show signs of a firmer footing, a stark departure from the economic contraction of 0.8% in 2017 and 1.3% in 2016. Following flat fourth-quarter growth in 2017, the state enjoyed 4.7% growth in first-quarter 2018 and followed it up at 4.3% in the second quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)--ranking it 12th among states--bolstered by all-around healthy growth across sectors. While third-quarter growth moderated to 1.9%, trends remain favorable. The state legislature will convene April 8, 2019, with the primary focus on developing the state's fiscal 2020 budget.

The state's Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) has not approved an update to the current revenue forecast for the remainder of fiscal years 2019 or 2020. The proposed fiscal 2019 revision for the state general fund is up 1.32%, or $126 million. The REC's state revenue outlook (dated Nov. 27, 2018) oil price assumptions for the fiscal year remain relatively unchanged at $63.40/bbl, up about $4 relative to the official forecast. For fiscal 2020, REC estimates prices will inch down to $60.50/bbl. Severance and royalty taxes for fiscal 2019 were also forecast at $725 million, up $113 million from fiscal 2018. Fiscal 2020 severance and royalty tax estimates similarly rose to $709 million from $543 million. Recognizing the volatility in the oil and gas sector, state officials remain cautious about the relative improvement in prices within the past year.

Montana (AA/Stable)

Budget adjustments during the prior biennium have led to relative stability going into the fiscal 2020-2021 biennium. Despite volatility in oil prices, Montana's proposed biennium budget shows growth in revenue from individual income tax. The state's fiscal 2020-2021 executive budget estimates oil prices averaging $62/bbl in the first year, which we consider aggressive, although it does not change our view of the budget given that oil revenue continues to represent only 2% of total general fund revenue for the biennium. Total year-to-date general fund revenue (excluding one-time transfers) through January 2019 increased 2.2% compared with the same period in fiscal 2018, but 2% below official estimates. Similarly, 2019 year-to-date oil-related revenue (oil and natural gas production tax) collections are 30.9% above the prior year and significantly above the assumed growth of 10.2%. However, general revenue growth correlates more with weaker income tax collections than oil and natural gas production taxes. Although high oil prices in first-quarter fiscal 2019 led to significant revenue growth, lower prices since suggest that the 30.9% growth rate will not continue, likely being closer to the official estimate of 10.2%.

Revised budget estimates show a 2019 ending structural deficit of $17 million (less than 1% of general fund expenditures), which will be funded with a reduction in general fund reserves. Proactive measures to keep the budget in balance are vital to the state's credit quality, especially as Montana has nearly depleted its once-high reserves. The state's reserves have weakened significantly, to a low point of $47.6 million (2% of general fund expenditures) at fiscal year-end 2017 from about $455 million in fiscal 2015 (21%). Reserves are expected to be about $169 million (7%) at fiscal year-end 2019.

New Mexico (AA/Stable)

New Mexico is projecting very strong growth in recurring revenue on higher oil prices and increased oil and gas production, following a 7.8% revenue decline in fiscal 2016 when prices dropped. Recurring general fund revenue rose 15.8% in fiscal 2018, and the state's December consensus forecast predicts 11.3% growth in 2019, followed by a 2.1% decline in 2020. Fracking activity in the Permian Basin caused state oil production to soar 22% in 2019, to 250 million barrels, while the state's significant natural gas production has also expanded. The governor's fiscal 2020 executive budget proposal estimates general fund reserves will equal 20.3% of fiscal 2019 recurring appropriations, and 25.0% in 2020. However, oil prices declined nearly 30% in November, and the state's revenue sources remain highly volatile. Consequently, we expect New Mexico to maintain high reserves for the immediate future, even as the legislature considers the governor's request for significant spending increases in education and other areas.

North Dakota (AA+/Stable)

North Dakota's significant swing in revenue over the fiscal 2016-2017 biennium from the dramatic contraction of the energy sector has given way to renewed growth, and revised fiscal 2018-2019 biennial estimates indicate stronger budgetary performance. The state's fiscal 2020-2021 executive biennium budget estimates oil prices averaging $46/bbl the first year and $50/bbl in the second year, a decrease from $52 in fiscal 2018 and $58 in fiscal 2019. Even with cautious economic growth estimates, total general fund revenue is estimated to increase approximately 6.8% from revised fiscal 2018-2019 levels to $4.47 billion.

The state expects it will add $775 million to its strategic investment and improvements fund, $1.2 billion to its legacy fund, and as much as $1.1 billion to local and tribal governments. Together, estimated final general fund reserves of $191 million and budget stabilization reserves of $113 million equal about 7% of ongoing biennium appropriations (fiscal years 2018-2019), or 14% of annualized expenditures. Combined with the state's estimated unassigned fund balance from the Strategic Investments and Improvements Fund of nearly $775 million, the increased available reserves are nearly 25% of ongoing biennium appropriations. North Dakota projects a $5.86 billion legacy fund balance to end the biennium. The legacy fund balance is budgeted to increase to $7.11 billion in fiscal 2020-2021, with up to 15% of principal available for appropriation with a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature.

Oklahoma (AA/Stable)

Oklahoma's revenues sustained momentum in 2019, partially reflecting strengthening oil production levels and improvement in gross production receipts. Statewide energy sector employment and the oil drilling rig count still remain well below their 2014 peak (214 reported oil rigs in November 2014), but the count climbed to 144 as of November 2018 over the preceding year. In the aftermath of the economic downturn and multiple years of cuts to education and agencies, Oklahoma approved revenue enhancements in the 2018 legislative session. From the revenue changes and economic growth, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reports gross production tax collections for oil have generated approximately $152.6 million for January 2019, 563% over the first seven months in fiscal 2018 and 186% above current-year projections. In January 2019, Oklahoma reported that total general fund revenue was up 19.9% over the same seven-month period in fiscal 2018 and 5.7% above current-year projections.

Oil-related revenue makes up a small portion of Oklahoma's operating revenue, but a prolonged slump in oil prices can disrupt the economy and negatively affect income and sales taxes. Nonetheless, positive revenue performance is more closely tied to improved net income and sales taxes than a rebound in gross production taxes. Positive revenue performance in fiscal 2019 should facilitate an expanded revenue base and a balanced budget. The executive budget proposes adding to Oklahoma's rainy day reserves, replenishing about $382 million to close fiscal 2019, which compares favorably with $70 million in reserves at fiscal year-end 2018.

Texas (AAA/Stable)

Texas' constitutionally required transfer of severance taxes to the economic stabilization and state highway funds limits its direct reliance on these revenue sources for operations, which we view positively. Combined oil and natural gas production taxes make up roughly 8.5% of general revenue in the current biennial revenue estimate. The comptroller of public accounts estimates combined production taxes will account for about 8% of the upcoming biennium's total revenue. At the close of 2018, general fund revenue collections totaling nearly $99 billion far outpaced the forecast by $10.3 billion (excluding $5.4 billion in tax and revenue anticipation note proceeds). The favorable variance (nearly 11%) stemmed from sales tax receipts, the state's primary revenue stream, which grew 10.5% to nearly $32 billion. Similarly notable was oil and gas production tax revenue, which rose 53.3% to $4.82 billion.

Fiscal 2019 total tax collections are up 9.6% through January, again led by sales taxes (up 7.9%) as well as natural gas and oil production taxes (up 33% and 37%, respectively). The reversal of fortune for the state's oil plays, predominantly concentrated in the Permian, is extraordinary, but stands to highlight how quickly economic winds can change. The state's gross state product (GSP) was effectively flat as recently as 2016, and squeaked out 2.6% growth in 2017, partially as a result of relatively weaker oil and gas activities. By contrast, estimated 2018 GSP growth equaled about 4.5%. While mining activities remain strong, lower prices can temper trends associated with production taxes and could dampen sales tax collections. Overall, we believe strong revenue trends to date will continue to translate into higher deposits into the state's reserves, which as of Dec. 31, 2018, totaled $12.5 billion and are estimated to grow to $15.4 billion by the end of the next biennium.

Wyoming (AA+/Stable)

Wyoming is considering adjustments to its two-year biennium budget ending June 30, 2020. Following years of large operating surpluses, the state has been running significant deficits due to the decline in coal and oil prices and production. The state's most recent January consensus revenue economic group forecast projects an oil price of $45/bbl in calendar year 2019 and $50 in 2020. State revenue, however, depend about as much on declining coal mining production as oil extraction. Coal production hit a record 462 million tons in 2008, but has fallen, due in part to a move to cleaner and cheaper fuels. The state projects coal production will continue to decrease gradually to 295 million tons in each of 2019 and 2020, and then to 285 million tons by 2024, while prices stay stable at $12.50 per ton.

The state estimates the fiscal 2019 coal severance tax will account for 30% of total state severance tax revenue, compared with 38% for oil and 28% for natural gas. However, only 64% of estimated fiscal 2019 mineral severance tax revenue will go into the general fund or budget reserve account, with the rest directed toward various local, higher education, permanent fund, water infrastructure, or capital uses. The state has sizable operating reserves to offset its mineral revenue volatility, not including constitutionally protected permanent funds. It projects that it will end the 2020 biennium with combined available reserves of $1.78 billion, or 74% of half of the 2019-2020 two-year biennium general fund and school foundation program combined appropriations. The reserves stood at $1.93 billion at fiscal year-end 2018.

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analyst:Timothy W Little, Chicago + 1 (312) 233-7052;
Secondary Contacts:Oscar Padilla, Dallas (1) 214-871-1405;
David G Hitchcock, New York (1) 212-438-2022;
Carol H Spain, Chicago (1) 312-233-7095;
Ladunni M Okolo, New York (1) 212-438-1208;
Thomas J Zemetis, New York + 1 (212) 438 1172;

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