With oil prices well off their recent highs, there are fresh doubts about the strength of the commodity's spring rally.
To get a better sense of where oil is headed, Jim Cramer, on Mad Money Tuesday night, checked in with colleague Carley Garner, founder of DeCarley Trading and the author of Higher Probability Commodity Trading.
In a nutshell, Garner told Cramer she thinks a breakdown to $55 is a lot more likely from these levels than a breakout up to $80.
Garner said a perfect storm of factors contributed to the recent surge in oil prices.
They included OPEC cutting production and making it stick, until just recently; major tension in the Middle East, with President Trump axing the Iran deal and the war in Syria occasionally flaring up; and the collapse of Venezuela, which has some of the largest oil reserves on earth but which cannot maintain production given the government's dysfunction.
But there are more reasons that oil may continue to fall. In the U.S. producers have continued to boost drilling aggressively. According to the latest Baker Hughes rig count, there are 859 oil rigs up and running in this country compared to 316 in early 2016.
Cramer and Garner started their review by looking at a weekly chart of West Texas Intermediate crude, which contains the CFTC's Commitments of Traders Report. Every week the CFTC releases data that tells what large speculators (meaning money managers), small speculators and commercial hedgers are doing with their futures positions. Garner views this as a good way to measure the overall level of panic or complacency in the futures market.
Garner has been concerned that large speculators are way too bullish. Historically, the oil futures market is like a seesaw: traders crowd into one side of the trade and the when it gets overloaded, they flee to the other side. While the recent pullback has lightened up the bullish side of the equation a bit, Garner still thinks the oil futures market is overweighted to the long side.
That doesn't mean we'll get a liquidation immediately. A trade can stay overcrowded for a long time. However, Garner notes that when there are too many bulls, it does tend to keep a lid on rallies. For example, in January she said she was concerned about this dynamic. Since then, oil rallied from the mid $60s to the low $70s, but now it's come back down to the mid $60s. Part of the reason? When nearly everyone is bullish, it's very hard to drum up new buyers.
According to this Commitments of Traders report, there are roughly 634,000 net long positions held by large speculators. Despite the recent selling, this is not that far from the all-time high of 740,000 contracts and it's much higher than the 2016 low near 150,000. Garner says that if some part of the fundamental picture deteriorates, the decline in recent days could be just the beginning.
In a second chart of WTI Garner points out that while the recent pullback in oil has been swift, it has yet to do any technical damage, as oil is still holding above its floor of support at $65. Nevertheless, when you look at the momentum indicators like the Relative Strength Index, or RSI, and the Williams %R oscillator, they've both rolled over after peaking at extremely overbought levels.
On three of the last four occasions when the Relative Strength Index has fallen hard from overbought readings, Garner says it has triggered declines of $12 or more in oil. The only exception was in February, when a $9 breakdown was swiftly followed by a rebound. If that pattern holds, oil could easily break down through that $65 floor and fall to $60. Garner believes that crude has more room to decline here.
If oil holds at $60, she says she'd be relatively neutral. However, she does think that there's a decent chance we could see a quick probe down toward $55, another powerful floor of support. Less likely: oil could break down into the high $40s. The lower it goes, the more Garner will like it. She'd be positive in the mid $50s and if crude can fall closer to its next floors of support at $47.50 or $43.50, she thinks it would be a screaming buy.
If oil holds at its $65 floor, then Garner thinks the rally could resume and it might climb all of the way to $75.
Cramer and Garner also looked at one more weekly chart: crude oil versus the U.S. dollar. In recent months -- until the pullback over the past few days -- oil and the dollar were moving in the same direction. Garner says it can't last because oil is priced in dollars all over the world. When the greenback goes up, oil should go down. Now, oil has begun to do just that, but Garner believes this process won't be complete until it falls back to the low $60s.
The charts, as interpreted by Carley Garner, suggest that Tuesday's weakness in oil is not the end.
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