The stock market has developed a new type of love-hate relationship with the price of oil. In the past, falling oil prices were treated as an economic positive because they freed up more money for Americans to spend on other things, such as dining out or clothing. However, the steep plunge in oil prices has triggered a reverse-psychology reaction on Wall Street: falling oil prices are bad because they signal a slowing global economy.
An even bigger head scratcher is the convoluted reaction that rising oil prices are good for the economy. Go figure.
Wall Street’s collective reaction, silly or not, is important because oil prices are what is currently driving the ups and downs of the stock market. And if you can divine the future direction of oil prices… you’ll find yourself on the right side of the stock market roller coaster.
What do I see when I connect the dots? That oil prices will fall even further.
Connecting the Dots #1: Helmerich & Payne. Helmerich & Payne is the largest lessor of oil rig drilling platforms in the US and recently announced that it would lay off up to 2,000 workers and chop its rig construction pace from four to two new oil rigs a month.
Moreover, Helmerich & Payne said that its active rig count has slid from 297 at the end of Q3 2014 to less than 200 today. “The rig count reduction thus far has been more swift than many expected,” said CEO John Lindsay.
And the price that H&P is receiving on that smaller amount of working rigs is falling. The daily revenue per rig is expected to average $27,000 to $27,500 this quarter, well below the $29,457 it received last quarter.
Connecting the Dots #2: Oil Pros Take Flight. For the week ending January 27, noncommercial traders increased their bets for oil prices to fall even more by adding 22,771 short contracts.
NOTE: Investors who use futures as hedges are called “commercial traders” while those who trade for speculation are called “noncommercial traders.”
The professional traders in the commodities pits make mistakes like the rest of us… but they’re right enough to make a living at it, so it’s dangerous to bet against them.
Connecting the Dots #3: Baker Hughes. In the last week of January, US oil producers shut down 94 drilling rigs, which is the largest one-week shutdown in 28 years!
That leaves 1,233 active rigs in North America—a three-year low.
Connecting the Dots #4: Supply Glut. The US Department of Energy reported that crude-oil stockpiles reached 406.7 million barrels in January, the highest level since the government started keeping records in 1982.
Higher supplies wouldn’t be an issue if demand were keeping pace, but thanks to improved drilling technology (fracking), the US is now awash in oil.
Connecting the Dots #5: USW Strike. Adding to the oil-patch pain, the strike of 3,800 members of the United Steelworkers union from nine refineries and chemical plants that process roughly 10% of US gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and jet fuel.
There are many ways to profit from falling oil prices, such as airlines and trucking stocks, but the most profitable is by betting against the companies that supply oil drilling equipment.
The Philadelphia Oil Services Index (OSX) is a price-weighted index composed of 15 companies that provide oil drilling and production services, oil field equipment, and support services.
If you’re confident that oil prices are headed lower, you can buy put options on the OSX index. And if you’re right… you’ll make a bundle. For example, my Rational Bear subscribers made over 200% in a few short weeks.
I’m not suggesting that you rush out and make big bets on oil prices tomorrow morning. As always, timing is everything, so wait for my next signal; but I am very confident that the profits of oil services companies are headed for the toilet.
30-year market expert Tony Sagami leads the Yield Shark and Rational Bear advisories at Mauldin Economics. To learn more about Yield Shark and how it helps you maximize dividend income, click here. To learn more about Rational Bear and how you can use it to benefit from falling stocks and sectors, click here.