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U.S. Shale Gas Shifting World Trade Markets, Says IMF

The United States is set to join the "legion" of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters on the surge of production from the shale boom, setting up a significant change to global markets, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its latest World Economic Outlook.

The twice-annual report issued this week includes a special feature on natural gas in the world economy by a team of writers led by Rabah Arezki.

"So far, energy users in the United States have been the main beneficiaries of the energy price declines that have resulted from the U.S. shale revolution," wrote Arezki. "However, that revolution has helped to stabilize international energy prices, including by freeing global energy supply for European and Asian markets, thus offsetting some of the shortages attributable to geopolitical disruptions.

"The shale gas boom has caused ripple effects to other energy sources around the globe, displacing coal from the United States to Europe, lowering energy costs and imposing a "significant impact on the geography of global energy trade.”

Domestic fossil fuel imports decreased to $225 billion, or 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 from $412 billion (2.8% of GDP) in 2008, according to IMF. Demand for coal and coal prices in the United States also have declined over the period.

"These declines, in turn, have encouraged increased exports of coal to Europe, which together with weak activity there following the global economic and financial crisis, has reduced Europe's demand for natural gas."

And shale gas in turn reduced U.S. dependence on LNG imports from Africa, the Middle East, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as gas imports from Canada, which thereby triggered a sharp decline in prices. Exporters since have shifted their gas products to other locations around the world in response to the United States no longer needing energy imports.

The United States also has gained a competitive edge in industrial manufacturing from cheap natural gas to make products. It's no secret that shale gas has brought some industrial manufacturing back to U.S. shores, with cheap gas processing undoing the gains made for years by overseas manufacturers. For U.S. coffers, the figures are astounding.

"A 10% reduction in the relative price of natural gas in the United States is found to lead to an improvement in U.S. industrial production relative to that of the Euro area of roughly 0.7% after one and a half years," IMF said.

This pattern of global gas trade is expected to evolve rapidly, according to the researchers.

"Domestic natural gas prices in the United States are expected to rise with rapidly growing liquefied natural gas exports but to remain markedly lower than those in Europe and Asia, given liquefaction costs."

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