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Lower oil, gas prices drive down commodity index

A pump jack draws oil out of the ground near Rockyford, Alta.

TODD KOROL/REUTERS

Mark Carney may have a point when he insists the loonie isn't a petro-dollar.

In fact, the Canadian dollar has held up surprisingly well in recent months even as Alberta crude prices take a hit.

Bank of Nova Scotia's commodity price index fell for the fourth consecutive month in March, 2.9 per cent lower than in February. The index is down 5.2 per cent from a year ago.

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The largest contributor to the drop was the oil and gas subindex, which is down 9.1 per cent from February. The chief cause: a glut of crude in the U.S. Midwest and a continued slide in natural gas prices .

Oil and gas make up 40 per cent of the commodity index.

Scotiabank economist Patricia Mohr says there's a growing disconnect between the price of Alberta crude – Edmonton light sweet and Western Canadian Select heavy crude – and world standards, such as Brent and WTI . The spread reached as high as $38 (U.S.).

The unusually high discounts on Canadian oil point to Canada's over-reliance on one key export market – the U.S. Midwest – and the dearth of pipeline capacity to move oil to fast-growing markets in Asia, Ms. Mohr said.

"There is an urgent need to expand Canada's export pipeline capacity to Asia," she said.

The U.S., on the other hand, consumed less oil in 2011. And for the first time since 1949, the country has become a net exporter of petroleum products.

Chinese oil consumption grew 6.3 per cent in 2011 and 12 per cent in 2010, according to Scotiabank.

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Bucking the trend in lower commodity prices were farm products (up 5.7 per cent, paced by canola) and forest products (up 2.1 per cent, push by lumber).

The metal and minerals index fell 1.1 per cent on lower gold and base metals prices.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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