While oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is even deeper.
West Texas Intermediate futures, the US benchmark, sank below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since 2003.
Actual barrels of Saudi Arabian crude shipped to Asia are even cheaper, at $26 - the lowest since early 2002 once inflation is factored in and near levels seen before the turn of the millennium.
Slumping prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is "unwinding", according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Slowing investment and construction in China, the world's biggest energy user, is "sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what's happening in this oil-price collapse," Mr Turner, former chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority, said.
The nation’s economic expansion faltered last year to the slowest pace in a quarter of a century.
“You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers.”
Saudi prices would be less than $17 a barrel when converted into dollar levels for 1998, the year oil sank to its lowest since the 1980s.
The benefit for consumers from historically low oil prices is being blunted by changes in fuel taxation and a reduction in subsidies, according to Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Standard Chartered in London.
“But it certainly shows that current prices are very low by any description,” he said.