On Dec. 11 local business leaders packed into a ballroom at the Omni Hotel near downtown Houston for a yearend chamber of commerce luncheon. There was a lot to celebrate. At more than $500 billion, Houston’s regional economy is now the fourth-largest in the U.S. Over the past decade, Houston has added more jobs—628,000—than exist in all of New Orleans. In August, more new-home permits were issued in Houston than in the entire state of California. Twice as much office space is being built there as in New York City.Despite the Texas-size smiles at the lunch, fear was in the air. A barrel of oil cost $45 less that day than it did in July, the last time prices were over $100. Houston is home to more oil companies than any other city in the world, and a decade of high prices has transformed it. Asked by the moderator at the lunch what they wanted for Christmas, audience members texted in their answers. The word-cloud projected onto a large screen included wishes for a new boat and a BMW X6. At the center in big, bold letters was the top wish: higher oil prices. By the end of the day, oil had fallen below $60 a barrel for the first time since 2009.Although it’s early days for the oil glut, Houston is starting to feel the pain. Energy companies have begun announcing cuts to their 2015 capital budgets of as much as 25 percent. Rig counts are falling in Texas as companies shut down drilling operations. At $60 a barrel, by a rough calculation, companies producing oil in Texas have collectively seen their monthly cash flow fall from $6.4 billion in June to $3.6 billion.
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