Apologies to North Dakota, but the slide in oil prices is good for the US economy overall. At least that's the conclusion Barclays draws in a note to clients Thursday (the North Dakota apology is ours).

More than five years ago, such a statement wouldnt have been necessary. Oil below $80 a barrel would be an unqualified positive for the US economy.

But that was before the shale-oil boom, and that has complicated the equation a bit.

Lower prices mean US consumers and businesses will spend less on oil. While the US imports less oil than it did, it is still a net importer oil. That means a lot of the money that would have otherwise gone overseas will be spent instead on US-produced goods and services.

Barclays chief US equity strategist Jonathan Glionna estimates that a 20% decline in gas prices results in approximately $70 billion of consumer savings.

But the shale boom means that the US imports a lot less oil. In the eight months of this year net imports averaged 5.2 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Department, down from 12.6 million barrels a day over the same period in 2006.

The energy sector has been one of few bright spots in a US economy defined by slow growth since the financial crisis. The drop in oil prices is not good for the US energy sector or the 213,500 jobs on oil-and-gas extraction industry payrolls. Citi projected that capital expenditures would flatten for exploration and production companies at $85. At $80, it forecast a 5% drop. At $75, a 10% drop.

In all, Mr. Glionna estimates that the fall in oil prices could lead to a $40 billion cut to capital expenditure in the oil patch.

"The slow recovery in consumer spending that has resulted from stagnant wages could finally get a boost," Mr. Glionna says. "When we weigh the pros and cons of lower oil prices, we conclude that the benefit to the consumer outweighs the negative implications for the energy sector."

Update: Net imports averaged 5.2 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Department, down from 12.6 million barrels a day over the same period in 2006.



Then the president talked about early-childhood education, raising the minimum wage and closing tax loopholes to fund infrastructure. And, after a reporter asked, Obama said he was open to reforming corporate taxes.

As new eras go, not an encouraging first day.

Still, the US economy has lately come to resemble a racehorse, quivering behind the starting gate. Unemployment is falling, manufacturing is healthy, energy production is booming and the economy posted a 4 percent growth rate from April through September.

More than at any time since the Great Recession, Washington has opportunities to remove obstacles to robust growth. So let's examine the potential upside, in order of probability.

Trade deals

The president's pursuit of new trade agreements has been halfhearted amid Democratic opposition in the Senate.

On Wednesday, he expressed optimism that a potential pact with Pacific nations could get through Congress.

Success would help the global economy while boosting US exporters. And, when she was in San Diego last year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said improvements to the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement could add $1 trillion a year to the continent's trade activity.

If anything, recent turmoil in Europe and Asia has highlighted the importance of trade. The election has improved the odds of tangible progress.

Tax overhaul

The president agrees with leaders of both parties that the corporate tax code is in dire need of reform.

At 39.1 percent, the combined state and federal US corporate rate is the highest in the developed world -- which averages 25 percent. This encourages investors to start companies elsewhere and gives foreigners a competitive advantage (cheaper after-tax capital, for starters) when they invest here.

Worse, a special levy on foreign earnings further discourages American ownership and has prompted a wave of "inversions" to move headquarters to low-tax nations.

At the same time, ever-growing loopholes require prudent CEOs to spend billions on lobbyists, lawyers and accountants to create avoidance strategies.

Yet, agreeing on problems doesn't equate to consensus on solutions in Washington. The president wants any streamlining to increase the federal take, while Republican leaders have insisted on revenue neutrality.

My hunch is that Republicans could convert some Democrats by sincerely attacking the "corporate welfare" of loopholes.

And some analysts see potential for a compromise that would allow tax collections to increase. Republicans would get funding restored for the military, and Democrats would get money for infrastructure.

So corporate tax reform could happen next year.

Some optimists, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., think Congress could pull off a bigger tax deal that includes individual rates.



NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Americans are deeply dissatisfied with President Obamas economy.

According to CNN midterm election exit polling, seven in 10 voters said they were concerned about economic conditions.

Truth be told, the economy is actually chugging along if you look at the big picture data on GDP and unemployment. America is certainly better off than it was six years ago during the financial crisis.

But that doesnt matter to most people. They look at their own financial situation, and for many Americans, it hasnt improved.

Heres a look at the ho-hum Obama economy in four charts.

1. Economic expansion: After contracting in the first quarter due to some unusually harsh winter weather, the economy has been building momentum. GDP grew by a solid annual rate of 3.5% in the third quarter, driven by a bump in consumer and government spending.

Low gas prices could be an added bonus this quarter as shoppers have a little extra money in their pockets going into the holiday season.

The steady economic growth picture is in sharp contrast to Europe, where feeble GDP and inflation are threatening to tip the continent into recession.

2. Jobs: After years of sluggish jobs growth, the economy is finally adding to the employment ranks at healthy clip. In September, the unemployment rate dipped below 6% for the first time since the recession. And that was because people were actually getting jobs as opposed to simply dropping out of the workforce, a theme thats been all too common during the recovery.

But dont break out the champagne yet, as there are still far too many people who have given up looking for work. In fact, at just 62.7%, the share of Americans participating in the labor force is now at its lowest point since 1978.

3. Paltry wages: But even those who have jobs arent necessarily seeing their fortunes improve.

Average weekly earnings are about $797 -- almost exactly the same as in 2007 (after adjusting for inflation). Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has repeatedly pointed to low wages as a big hurdle for the economy.

Thats a tough pill to swallow and may be why so many voters expressed economic anxiety this election cycle. While some goods cost more, Americans wages arent going up accordingly.

4. Bull market for some: At the same time, things are looking pretty good for the upper middle class and wealthy. The stock market is at record highs and home values have made a remarkable comeback.

But until things start to perk up for all Americans, expect the economy stay to front and center in the next election cycle.

--CNNMoneys Patrick Gillespie contributed to this report.

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The case for a Chinese economic slowdown is pretty incontrovertible at this point.

According to many pundits, the slower growth means that, like the Soviet Union and Japan before it, China doesnt threaten to supplant the US as the worlds biggest economy.

Analysts predicted that the Soviet economy would soon surpass the American economy in the 1960s, that Japans would do the same in the 1980s and that the United States had achieved a new era of perpetual speedy growth in the late 1990s. None of those predictions has come to pass.