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Chart: Which Countries Are Damaged Most by Low Oil Prices?



Chart: Which Countries Are Damaged Most by Low Oil Prices?

Which Countries Are Damaged Most by Low Oil Prices?

This week’s chart looks at costs per barrel, exports, and total oil production.

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Oil is by far the world’s most-traded commodity, with $786.3 billion of crude changing hands in international trade in 2015.

While low commodity prices can hurt any major producer, oil prices can have a particularly detrimental effect on oil-rich economies. This is because, for better or worse, many of these economies hold onto oil as an anchor for achieving growth, filling government coffers, and even fueling social programs.

If those revenues don’t materialize as planned, these countries turn increasingly fragile. In the worst case scenario, an extended period of low oil prices can cause the fate of an entire regime to hang by a thread.

Which Countries are Damaged Most by Low Oil Prices?

This week’s chart explores three key pieces of high-level data on the oil sector from 2015: the cost of production ($/bbl), total oil production (MMbbl/day), and the world’s top exporters of oil ($).

The general effects of these factors are pretty straightforward:

  • Countries that have a high cost of production per barrel are going to find it tough to make money in a low oil price environment
  • Countries that are major producers or exporters tend to rely on oil revenues as a major economic driver
  • Oil producers that are major exporters also have to deal with another factor: the effect that low oil prices may have on their currencies

Here are some particular countries that are under duress from current energy prices:

Back in the Hugo Chávez era, things were better in Venezuela than they are today. Oil prices were mostly sky-high, and this enabled the socialist country to bring down inequality as well as put food on the table for its citizens. However, as the World Bank described in 2012, since oil accounted for “96% of the country’s exports and nearly half of its fiscal revenue”, Venezuela was left “extremely vulnerable” to changes in oil prices.

And change they did. Oil prices are now less than 50% of what they were when the World Bank wrote the above commentary. Partially as a result, Venezuela is having all sorts of problems, ranging from runaway hyperinflation to shortages in almost everything.

Venezuela’s cost per barrel isn’t bad at $23.50, but the country is the world’s ninth-largest oil exporter with $27.8 billion of exports in 2015. If oil prices were north of $100/bbl, Venezuela’s situation would be a lot less dire.

Russia is the world’s second-largest crude oil exporter, shipping $86.2 billion to countries outside of its borders in 2015. That’s good for 11.0% of all oil exports globally. Russia’s cost of production in 2015 was relatively low, at $17.30 per barrel.

But is declining oil revenue influencing foreign policy? It’s hard to say – but we do know that, historically, leaders have turned to nationalist projects during tougher economic times. In this case, Putin may have focused Russia’s national attention on Ukraine as a way to deflect from a less-than-rosy economic outlook.

All is not well in Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff could be impeached by as early as next week.

Brazil is the ninth-largest producer of oil globally, pumping out about 3.2 million barrels per day. However, a bigger concern may be the cost of producing oil in the country. The production cost in 2015 was a hefty $48.80/bbl, among the most expensive of major oil producers.

The post-Olympics hangover will be a challenging one in Brazil, as it faces its worst economic crisis in 30 years. The largest country in Latin America had its economy shrink 5.4% in the first quarter of this year.


Nigeria, which will soon be one of the three most populous countries in the world, is also very reliant on oil revenues to prop up its economy.

The country has a $7 billion budget deficit due to lower oil revenues, and it recently also dropped its peg to the U.S. dollar on June 15th. The naira fell 61% against the dollar since then, wreaking havoc throughout the economy. Nigeria also recently lost its title of “Africa’s largest economy”, handing it back to South Africa.

Nigeria is the sixth-largest exporter of oil, with annual exports of $38 billion in 2015. Its cost of production is higher than average, as well, at $31.50 per barrel.


Canada’s economy is largely diversified, but it is also the world’s fifth-largest exporter of oil with $50.2 billion of exports in 2015. Costs are also high in the oil sands, and the average cost of production per barrel was $41.10 throughout the country.

The oil bust has dragged the energy-rich province of Alberta into a recession, and the Canadian dollar is also severely impacted by oil prices for multiple reasons. Alberta’s economy is about to have its largest two-year contraction on record, while the provincial government’s deficit has exploded to $10.9 billion.

Energy investment in Alberta is forecast to be about half of the total from 2014. Meanwhile, economic conditions elsewhere have also been impacted, as areas such as housing, retail, labor markets, and manufacturing have all felt the pinch.

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Central Banks

Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt?

Foreign investors hold $7.3 trillion of the national U.S. debt. These holdings declined 6% in 2022 amid a strong U.S. dollar and rising rates.



Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt in 2022?

Today, America owes foreign investors of its national debt $7.3 trillion.

These are in the form of Treasury securities, some of the most liquid assets worldwide. Central banks use them for foreign exchange reserves and private investors flock to them during flights to safety thanks to their perceived low default risk.

Beyond these reasons, foreign investors may buy Treasuries as a store of value. They are often used as collateral during certain international trade transactions, or countries can use them to help manage exchange rate policy. For example, countries may buy Treasuries to protect their currency’s exchange rate from speculation.

In the above graphic, we show the foreign holders of the U.S. national debt using data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Top Foreign Holders of U.S. Debt

With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.

This bond offloading by China is the one way the country can manage the yuan’s exchange rate. This is because if it sells dollars, it can buy the yuan when the currency falls. At the same time, China doesn’t solely use the dollar to manage its currency—it now uses a basket of currencies.

Here are the countries that hold the most U.S. debt:

RankCountryU.S. Treasury HoldingsShare of Total
1🇯🇵 Japan$1,076B14.7%
2🇨🇳 China$867B11.9%
3🇬🇧 United Kingdom$655B8.9%
4🇧🇪 Belgium$354B4.8%
5🇱🇺 Luxembourg$329B4.5%
6🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$284B3.9%
7🇨🇭 Switzerland$270B3.7%
8🇮🇪 Ireland$255B3.5%
9🇹🇼 Taiwan$226B3.1%
10🇮🇳 India$224B3.1%
11🇭🇰 Hong Kong$221B3.0%
12🇧🇷 Brazil$217B3.0%
13🇨🇦 Canada$215B2.9%
14🇫🇷 France$189B2.6%
15🇸🇬 Singapore$179B2.4%
16🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$120B1.6%
17🇰🇷 South Korea$103B1.4%
18🇩🇪 Germany$101B1.4%
19🇳🇴 Norway$92B1.3%
20🇧🇲 Bermuda$82B1.1%
21🇳🇱 Netherlands$67B0.9%
22🇲🇽 Mexico$59B0.8%
23🇦🇪 UAE$59B0.8%
24🇦🇺 Australia$57B0.8%
25🇰🇼 Kuwait$49B0.7%
26🇵🇭 Philippines$48B0.7%
27🇮🇱 Israel$48B0.7%
28🇧🇸 Bahamas$46B0.6%
29🇹🇭 Thailand$46B0.6%
30🇸🇪 Sweden$42B0.6%
31🇮🇶 Iraq$41B0.6%
32🇨🇴 Colombia$40B0.5%
33🇮🇹 Italy$39B0.5%
34🇵🇱 Poland$38B0.5%
35🇪🇸 Spain$37B0.5%
36🇻🇳 Vietnam$37B0.5%
37🇨🇱 Chile$34B0.5%
38🇵🇪 Peru$32B0.4%
All Other$439B6.0%

As the above table shows, the United Kingdom is the third highest holder, at over $655 billion in Treasuries. Across Europe, 13 countries are notable holders of these securities, the highest in any region, followed by Asia-Pacific at 11 different holders.

A handful of small nations own a surprising amount of U.S. debt. With a population of 70,000, the Cayman Islands own a towering amount of Treasury bonds to the tune of $284 billion. There are more hedge funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands per capita than any other nation worldwide.

In fact, the four smallest nations in the visualization above—Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, and Luxembourg—have a combined population of just 1.2 million people, but own a staggering $741 billion in Treasuries.

Interest Rates and Treasury Market Dynamics

Over 2022, foreign demand for Treasuries sank 6% as higher interest rates and a strong U.S. dollar made owning these bonds less profitable.

This is because rising interest rates on U.S. debt makes the present value of their future income payments lower. Meanwhile, their prices also fall.

As the chart below shows, this drop in demand is a sharp reversal from 2018-2020, when demand jumped as interest rates hovered at historic lows. A similar trend took place in the decade after the 2008-09 financial crisis when U.S. debt holdings effectively tripled from $2 to $6 trillion.

Foreign Holdings of U.S. Debt

Driving this trend was China’s rapid purchase of Treasuries, which ballooned from $100 billion in 2002 to a peak of $1.3 trillion in 2013. As the country’s exports and output expanded, it sold yuan and bought dollars to help alleviate exchange rate pressure on its currency.

Fast-forward to today, and global interest-rate uncertainty—which in turn can impact national currency valuations and therefore demand for Treasuries—continues to be a factor impacting the future direction of foreign U.S. debt holdings.

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