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On the week before Christmas, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi made it absolutely clear he was not playing games. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, would not trim output to support prices and could actually export more if prices dared to rise. He said, "it is not in the interest of OPEC producers to cut their production. Whether [the price] goes down to $20 a barrel, $40 a barrel, $50 a barrel, $60 a barrel, it is irrelevant."

His remarks, which were far more aggressive than previous ones (when he suggested the price plunge would be temporary), opened a new front in the oil wars. Saudi Arabia's fight for market share could easily be long and nasty and there will be casualties among the oil-producing countries along the way. Oil has become become an economic weapon.

Mr. al-Naimi's stance pretty much guarantees that the biggest economic story of 2014 – the 45-per-cent fall in oil prices – will not evaporate in 2015. Oil is the world's most widely traded commodity. Developed and developing countries are utterly dependent on it to power their economies. The fallout from the price plunge has only just begun. Entire economies will be reshaped by the new low-price era and the outcomes will not always be pleasant. Remember the first Gulf war in 1990-91 started after Iraq accused Kuwait of pushing down prices by exceeding its OPEC production quota.

Broadly speaking, countries that both import oil and consume a lot of energy per capita will be the main beneficiaries of oil's fall. The United States is the standout winner, even though its shale oil industry will take a hit as the Saudis show no mercy in trying to crimp non-OPEC production (in spite of surging shale oil production, the U.S. remains a net oil importer).

Low oil prices will translate into higher growth and falling unemployment in the United States and will help make the United States the growth leader in 2015 among the world's large economies. In 2014, the U.S. economy performed well, but it was not the star. Its growth was at least matched by Canada's and outdone by Britain's. In 2015, there will be no contest. Economists expect 3-per-cent U.S. growth in 2015 and a jobless rate that could dip below 5 per cent, a remarkable achievement when you consider that 10 per cent of Americans were out of work in late 2009, the year after the start of the financial crisis.

Besides leading the world in growth, the United States will no doubt distinguish itself from the pack by hiking interest rates in 2015, the first Federal Reserve hike in nine years. BMO Capital Markets chief economist Douglas Porter expects a quarter-point hike in each of the last two quarters of the year. Nothing jarring, in other words. The U.S. dollar, as a result, is likely to remain strong.

Canada is more of an oil economy than the United States, as you can tell from Canada's sinking petro-dollar. BMO says oil is four times more important to the Canadian economy than it is to America's. Does that mean Canada will sink in 2015, along with the rest of the world's oil exporters? Not likely. Keeping pace with the Americans will not be easy. But don't forget that the United States is Canada's dominant trading partner and that strong growth south of the border will have a pleasant spillover effect to the north. The low oil price will also be a godsend for British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. After decades of seeing economic power shift to Alberta, home of the oil sands, they will finally get some of it back. The falling Canadian dollar will also boost the fortunes of exporters of manufactured goods, which are largely based in eastern Canada.

The EU, where growth is negligible beyond Britain, will also benefit from low oil prices. Add in the weaker euro and there is a good chance that 2014 will be seen as the post-crisis low point. The wild card, of course is quantitative easing. European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has been threatening for months to pull the QE trigger as growth falls and deflation becomes a clear and present danger. Sinking oil prices are a double-edged sword for the ECB. They will put downward pressure on prices but upward pressure on growth, since low oil effectively acts as a tax cut. The now-tedious QE guessing game may not end any time soon.

Stories of growth do not make riveting reading, sadly; disaster does and there will plenty of that to go around as low oil reduces income, growth and employment in the oil producing countries, both inside and outside of OPEC. Russia, the non-OPEC energy giant and second biggest oil exporter, is probably already in recession. Venezuela and Nigeria, two OPEC countries that live and die on oil prices, are already on the edge of the economic precipice. Social mayhem could be the result if they tip over the edge. Neither country can balance its budget at $60 oil; both of them have been putting pressure on the Saudis to reduce output to shore up prices, to no avail.

The Western world does not much care about Venezuela and Nigeria. The view in London, Berlin and New York is that they, through epic corruption and economic mismanagement, are largely the authors of their own misfortune and their economies, should they fail, are too small to rattle the global economy. It is Russia that concerns them most. A Russian recession induced by low oil prices, economic sanctions and a plummeting currency – the ruble lost almost half its value against the dollar in 2014 – will have repercussions everywhere, especially in Europe, which has extensive economic and business links to Russia. Twenty-five years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down, Russia was pretty much isolated from the West. Not so any more.

If the world is looking for a crisis in 2015 that can destabilize the world economic and social order, Russia could be it. The Saudis may want to reconsider their determined low-oil strategy.