While I am loathe to try and pick a bottom in this freefalling oil market, it is true that the price is leaning towards the ridiculous now. At least 25% of all the oil in production today is uneconomic at current market prices, and that is just not sustainable in the long term.
In the short term, however, it is also true that markets can entirely overdo the moves they make. In oil that was true of the upside spike we saw in 2007 to above $145 and it is true of today's drop under $50 a barrel.
As oil prices now dip below $50 it's very tempting to try to pick a tradable bottom. After all, oil is not only uneconomic at these levels it is, in fact, bounded by zero. How much lower can it go?
There are two ways to try and play even a technical rally in oil. Certainly the stocks that will react the quickest to even the most modest rise in crude prices are the ones that have been the hardest hit -- those that have real bankruptcy risk in their share prices, names such as Halcon (HK) , SandRidge Energy (SD) - Get SandRidge Energy, Inc. Report and Goodrich Petroleum (GDP) - Get Goodrich Petroleum Corporation Report .
I prefer to try to find those integrated companies that are able to buy some of the weak players on the cheap, as Blackstone (BX) - Get Blackstone Group Inc. Class A Report did recently with Linn Energy (LINE) . Names like this include BHP Billiton (BHP) - Get BHP Group Ltd Sponsored ADR Report and Exxon (XOM) - Get Exxon Mobil Corporation Report .
Then there are the 'survivors," the exploration and production players I think come out the other end of this downturn in oil in strong positions here in the U.S.: Hess (HES) - Get Hess Corporation (HES) Report , Cimarex (XEC) - Get Cimarex Energy Co. Report and EOG Resources (EOG) - Get EOG Resources, Inc. (EOG) Report .
Of the three strategies, the "vampires" like Exxon and BHP are the most conservative plays, while the highest beta names are the most risky.
How you choose to play oil depends upon your level of comfort with risk. Oil prices are going to remain volatile for quite a while, so all of these trades are going to remain volatile as well.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held a position in XEC.