Citi: It Looks Like Low Oil Prices Didn't Help Other Companies Make More Money

Earnings estimates have been slashed across the board, but consumers didn't take their money elsewhere.
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The collapse in oil prices prompted analysts to slash earnings estimates for energy companies around the global by $164 billion in 2015. Those losses were supposed to turn into a gain for households, by freeing up room in their budgets for more discretionary purchases.

So where did that money go?

Apparently not to the world's other publicly traded corporations, according to Citigroup Inc. Chief Global Equity Strategist Robert Buckland and Strategist Mert Genc. 

"Investors were hoping that lower oil prices would boost earnings expectations in other consumer-oriented sectors, even if with a lag," wrote Citi's team. "But these upgrades never really came through."

In fact, earnings estimates for every sector have declined in each of the past two years:

Citi EE
Source: Citigroup

In the U.S., the savings rate has risen amid the collapse in oil prices, suggesting consumers question the durability of these savings or are more interested in continuing to bolster their household balance sheet in the wake of the financial crisis.

"Clearly, falling oil prices have been a headwind for global earnings per share," they conclude.

There are some factors, however, which complicate this reading.

For starters, earnings estimates have habitually trended downwards. In addition, the rising greenback — generally the flip side of the coin in the event of a downturn in oil prices — has necessarily weighed on global revenues measured in U.S. dollars.

The presumptive beneficiaries of lower oil, consumer discretionary, are also the firms that, at least in the case of the U.S., have had to grapple with rising wage pressures.

But Citi's analysis does reinforce that the recent rebound in oil prices and typical accompanying effects in the foreign exchange market are likely to be conducive to profit growth globally.

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