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Some Economic Surprises from 2014

2015-1-8
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

2014 was a year of several economic surprises. On today's program, we look back at some of them. First on our list, is the unexpected drop in the price of oil that began in June.

Often, low oil prices fuel growth, but this year the price drop has helped some countries while hurting others. Increased American oil production is one reason for the drop in oil prices.

Experts say slowing economies in China and Europe have reduced demand for oil. Japan's economy also slowed and then went into recession. Increasing supply and decreasing demand usually result in falling prices.


In this Dec. 16, 2014 file photo, a man walks by a sign advertising currencies of an exchange office in Moscow, Russia. Lower oil prices and economic sanctions have damaged Russian economy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File )

In the past, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, has reacted to price drops by decreasing production. But this year that did not happen. At OPEC's meeting in November, members chose to leave production levels unchanged.

The huge drop in the price of oil this year helped create another major story: Russia's slowing economy.

Russian officials said they expect the country's economy to shrink in 2015, or go into recession. Two reasons for this are reduced income from oil sales and the effects of restrictions placed on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.

The exchange rate for Russia's currency, the ruble, has dropped sharply against the dollar. In mid-December, the European Union agreed to increase sanctions against Russia. They include restrictions on finance and tourism in Crimea.

The U.S. economy showed signs of strengthening this year. The Department of Commerce says the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 5 percent from July to September.

Also, 2014 saw the Dow Jones Industrial Index -- a widely reported stock market measure -- extended above 18,000 for the first time.

And the human face of America's central bank changed in 2014. The U.S. Senate confirmed Janet Yellen to lead the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System in January. She is the first woman to lead the nation's central bank in its 100-year history.

And in a major surprise, President Barack Obama announced an end to sanctions against Cuba. The change in policy will permit increase trade in financial dealings between the two countries. The United States cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961.

And that is the Economics Report from VOA Learning English. You can find more reports at 51voa.com. I'm Mario Ritter.