The United States Oil Fund USO plunged 5.3 percent Thursday, bringing its year-to-date decline to 14.3 percent. USO, the most heavily traded oil exchange-traded product in the U.S., is now almost 20 percent below its 52-week high, putting it dangerously close to officially being in a bear market.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is again confounding energy investors. On Thursday, the cartel and other major oil-producing countries extended a production cut that has done little to bolster crude prices.
“OPEC announced it would extend cuts in oil output by nine months to March 2018 on Thursday, after November’s landmark deal failed to clear a global supply overhang,” reported CNBC. “The move, which was then ratified by non-OPEC producers, was the base-case scenario for the market and means the 1.8 million barrel per day supply cut will roll over until the first-quarter of 2018.”
Year to date, USO has added more than $125 million in new assets, but there are some signs traders are growing tired of the fund from the long side as USO lost nearly $15 million in assets since the start of the current quarter.
Making the long oil trade all the more difficult is that high U.S. oil inventories mute the impact of output reductions by OPEC and other countries, indicating that oil bulls need to focus on other factors.
“Chinese demand in addition to U.S. production (including Trump’s export policy,) is probably more critical to oil price formation so is likely keeping oil range-bound, even if the possible range is wide,” said S&P Dow Jones Indices in a recent note. “According to index history, oil could reach between $25–$85 dollars before setting record moves. As OPEC cuts and if U.S. inventories decline to low levels, oil prices may increase, so China may use their own reserves or shop around rather than purchase oil at a higher price, capping the high end of the price range.”
Capitulation And Rebalancing
Some oil market observers may argue that capitulation is near and that the market has digested most of the readily available bad news, but there are other factors that need to come into play to help oil rebound.
“In this period of market rebalancing, it seems opportunities are hard to find but the good news possibly is there seems to be more stability from the lower volatility, higher correlation and tight term structures. If it is underpinned by the fundamentals of a recovering oil market, there could be more upside than downside,” said S&P Dow Jones.