With consumer finances healthy, the outlook for 2016 depends primarily on whether trends in investment and exports persist. It is a brave analyst who calls the bottom of the oil market, or the end of the dollar’s surge.
I have a hard time with the assumption that consumer finances are healthy. With 1.2T in student loan debt carrying a 11.6% delinquency rate, there might be drags on consumer spending that low gas prices aren't going to alleviate. Overall debt is creeping up, and student debt is marching up.
Still, there is a limit to the damage falling oil-and-gas investment can do to spending; investment in mining has already fallen by half since 2014.
Here's my working hypothesis on oil: For years, oil companies could issue bonds based on the assumption that oil would be profitable, even shale oil. But supply has grown much faster than demand, and these bonds are being downgraded. Downgrades hurt, because refinancing debt becomes more expensive, and many portfolios cannot hold low grade bonds. Once bonds are sold, their price is realized. Making matters worse, bonds have become harder to unload, raising fears of a bond liquidity crisis. That is, everyone rushes to the door, to get that crap off of their balance sheet, and only one person (the one taking the biggest haircut) is allowed through at a time. In short, extended low oil prices could be the pin that pricks the high yield bubble.
The dollar is the bigger worry: it has already appreciated by 1.4% since the start of the year. That might deter the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates quickly. Recent work by Stanley Fischer, the Fed’s vice-chair, suggests that a 10% rise in the dollar reduces GDP by more than 1.5% in the medium term.
It is likely that China is going to have to devalue the yuan even further as their slowdown persists.