NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Looks as if we have found a happy medium level with oil for the moment. What's a happy medium? It's where oil stops going down for a while and lets the market catch its breath.
Right now, the stock market fears financial collapse more than it welcomes consumer strength. There is a lot of hoopla about the spike in the Swiss franc and what it means for the financial system. While some speculators, including retail folks, were hurt, I don't think it rises to the occasion of a financial catastrophe. It's serious if you owe money to a Swiss bank. It is deadly if you were shorting the franc. But otherwise, it is just an unsettling event like Cyprus, or Iceland, but not on the scale of Greece, or any of the myriad landmines that you can step on, the moment you go to Europe.
But oil? I can't be glib about oil. We are on the verge of many bankruptcies in the oil patch, and oil can be disruptive to the high-yield market, where a lot of companies go to get financing. I have been around long enough to know that it matters. This market will go down if we hit a slew of bankruptcies, and the reverberations will not be contained within the sector.
Last week, the housing stocks were hurt simply because Stuart Miller, the terrific CEO of Lennar (LEN - Get Report) , said that there was some weakness in the Houston housing market. We know that oil has been a very good generator of jobs, especially high-wage jobs. When you get layoffs like the 9,000 people just let go by Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report) , you are going to have repercussions. The best thing this market has going for it is not low rates or low gasoline prices, but better employment numbers. The big layoffs that are coming in this industry are going to hurt.
This is why it was so important to the market that the Energy Information Administration, or EIA, came out last week and said that there will be enough of a shutdown in production very shortly, that oil could find equilibrium. The judgment of this influential organization gave pause to those who are endlessly bailing on oil. It has also come at a time when Wall Street is starting to really get negative on both the companies and the price of oil. Finally, this week, we are seeing analyst reports about $30-oil. We are getting downgrades and number-slashing left and right. These are the kinds of things that sets a bottom within sight.
I still don't like the group, but that's not the issue. Solvency is the issue. If oil can just stop its precipitous decline, many of the larger hobbled energy companies can sell shares, refinance, or sell oil in the futures market to bring in cash. That will allow them to avert bankruptcy and not cause a rash of layoffs that can distort the rosy employment picture.
Meanwhile, the consumer is recognizing right now, after multiple trips to the gas station, that $20 might be here to stay. The consumer doesn't need $1 oil to feel good; $2 will do fine. It's exactly the amount that gives $1,000 in disposable income to be spent elsewhere, and it's enough to make consumer sentiment surge to an 11-year high, as we learned this morning.
We are in the sweet spot where everybody can win, or at least not lose as bad as we thought. That's what matters for the big picture, and that's why we can rally on long-lost stability in the oil market.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 2:04 pm EST on Real Money, Jan. 15. The time line has been modified.