Has Oil Topped in the Near Term? Perhaps.


". . . crude has been trading like a ball being pushed underwater."

Crude oil seems to be defying gravity as of late. Despite yet another larger-than-expected build in crude inventories, oil rebounded from an early morning sell-off to finish down only mildly on Wednesday. In essence, crude has been trading like a ball being pushed underwater.

To be sure, there has been no shortage of rational explanations for this recent price action. To wit:
  1. Severely oversold conditions prevailing in late February
  2. Expectations that OPEC’s production cuts will begin to eat in to crude inventory in coming months
  3. (Seemingly) Better-than-expected economic news on various fronts
  4. Expectations that the PPIP will stabilize banks, thus leading to the stabilization and eventual recovery of the economy
  5. The putative future weakening of the dollar as the Fed begins to monetize debt
  6. Worries about future supply should low prices continue to prevail
  7. Semi-robust gasoline demand, which could portend an eventual drawdown in crude inventories
  8. Short-covering by speculators with large net short positions
Moreover, with the ink barely dry on crude’s 50-print, a gaggle of sell-side technical analysts have now come out with predictions of even higher crude prices in the near future. While these prognostications have been tempered slightly by fundamental analysts who caution about a still-languishing economy, weak industrial demand, and a surplus of inventory, there’s no mistaking the bullish tone and action in the crude market. Indeed, crude’s recent behavior instills in one the sense that it can certainly move higher - both dramatically and violently - in the near-term.

But is it possible that this recent is foreshadowing a near-term exhaustion of the price trend and subsequently lower prices in the month(s) ahead? Perhaps.

Consider the following: Over the past month, USO has gained 33%. If we normalize each day’s return during this period by USO’s trailing 20-day daily volatility, we get a cumulative return of about 7 daily standard deviations (about 1.6 monthly standard deviations). Moreover, crude’s short-term RSI chart has exhibited a distinctive wide-ranging choppy pattern over this time.

So what? Well, there has been one period in recent history where crude’s price action over a month-long period has exhibited strikingly similar normalized return and RSI patterns - namely, the period between June 4, 2008 and July 3, 2008. And it’s what happened after July 3, 2008 that may pique investors’ interest in these patterns.

Interestingly, the price of crude on July 3, 2008 wasn’t the top. That top wasn’t reached until a few days later. Unsurprisingly, when USO did reach its high, its move from 110 to 117 was swift and violent. Such a move in the current environment, obviously, should not be ruled out.

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