After a three-week rally, Baker Hughes' (BHI reports the number of active U.S. oil and gas rigs is down, falling to 421 this week, an decrease of 3 rigs over last week.
U.S. oil rigs down significantly by 7 to 330 from 337 last week, while U.S. natural gas rigs were up 4 to 90 versus 86 last week and miscellaneous rigs came in the same at 1.
The U.S. offshore rig count remained stable once again this week at 21, but is down 7 rigs year over year.
While the recent increase of U.S. active rigs had been somewhat expected at this stage in the cycle and a fairly positive event in recent weeks, following U.S. and global crude oil's reaction to the United Kingdom's break from the European Union, the market could have been further stressed by the count's continued ascent. West Texas Intermediate crude futures, the U.S. benchmark, were down 4.7% to $47.77 at 1 p.m., while the global Brent crude benchmark saw futures down 4.6% to $48.54.
In short, rigs being put back to work earlier than many analysts expected could signal operators are working their way through drilled but uncompleted wells, or DUCs, which therefore entails that U.S. production could see less of a decline than anticipated.
The International Energy Agency has hinted toward this outcome in recent weeks, leading many, including longtime oil market bear Goldman Sachs, to believe the commodity recovery remains in a fragile state. Prior to a commodity rally beginning in March, industry followers saw little hope for rigs going back to work in 2016, and even after prices seemed to stabilize near $50 per barrel, bullish analysts have only pulled up forecasts to the tail-end of 2016.
But according to TheStreet's founder Jim Cramer, and as BHI's report demonstrated Friday, data that we're getting about oil continues to show a decline in the amount of drilling, leading him to believe oil remains between $45 and $50 per barrel, despite recent breakouts from powerhouses ExxonMobil (XOM - Get Report) and Chevron (CVX - Get Report) , which suggest oil is heading toward $80.
"I don't think [oil] is doing that," Cramer explained, adding that recent positive movement of oil stocks like Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD - Get Report) despite oil's fall illustrates the lack of opportunities for buying oil stocks now. "I don't see any bargains in oil."
A sooner-than-expected uptick in U.S. drilling, which has fallen dramatically as companies drastically cut capital expenditures through 2015 and into the first quarter of 2016 when oil prices hit a 12-year low, could halt improvement in a global oversupply of oil that has been dampened in recent months with exogenous production disruptions in Canada, Nigeria and elsewhere.
And while many analysts, such as the KLR Group's Darren Gacicia, insist that the supply-demand imbalance is headed toward correcting itself, others, including Cantor Fitzgerald's Brad Carpenter have opined that U.S. producers' insistence on adding rigs in a $50 oil world could prove self-defeating and cause a delay in a West Texas Intermediate crude oil rally that at one point did not see oil above that mark until 2018.
Nevertheless, the market could feel some relief Friday after seeing the U.S. lose the majority of what it gained last week in oil rigs, an event that signals continue volatility in the count and shines light on the looming theory that $50 may not be the magic number.