Crude oil prices moved lower again today, Friday, November 4. And there were plenty of reasons for the continued downward trend. Which suggests that the market is likely to continue to move lower on Monday.
U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell another 1.07% today to move even further below the $45 a barrel level that some traders were hoping would mark a floor for U.S. crude. West Texas Intermediate closed at $44.18 a barrel today.
The international Brent benchmark dropped 1.53% to finish at $45.64.
The bad news for oil came from multiple directions.
First, the U.S. rig count for oil and natural gas climbed this week by 12 to 569 rigs, according to Baker Hughes. The total for oil rigs moved up 9 to 450. (Last year at this time, there were 572 oil rigs in operation.) The move up in this week’s rig count is especially cruel because the rig count had declined last week for the first drop in four months. That had raised hopes that, maybe, the trend toward more rigs working in U.S. oil fields might have stalled for a while. No such luck. U.S. production is likely to move higher this month.
Second, Saudi Arabia announced that it would increase output to 11 million to 12 million barrels a day–unless Iran agrees to limit its own production. Iran is demanding an exemption–like that granted Libya and Nigeria–from proposed OPEC production cuts that are supposed to be worked out by the time of OPEC’s next meeting on November 30. The Saudi move doesn’t bode well for the ability of OPEC to reach a realistic and detailed agreement on production reductions at that meeting. (Saudi Arabia had been producing about 10.5 million to 10.7 million barrels a day recently.)
And third, oil production from the aging fields in the North Sea looks set for a 10% month over month increase to 2.16 million barrels a day in December, according to Bloomberg projections based on announced shipping plans. If all the cargoes that are now on the schedule load, the North Sea fields will ship the most oil since May 2012.
All this suggests that this week’s retreat in oil prices, which has unwound all of the gains in crude since the announcement at the end of September that OPEC has reach a tentative agreement on reducing production that would be fleshed out at the November 30 meeting, is set to continue for a while–and may indeed only be interrupted if OPEC can actually deliver a concrete plan for significant production cuts on November 30.
My suggestion is that you let oil prices settle lower toward $40 a barrel.
At that point, you have a decision to make. You can buy shares of the lowest cost U.S. oil shale producers on the idea that they will make money even at $40 and will make a lot of money if oil climbs again from there toward the $50 to $55 level that seems to mark the top of the range for oil currently. Or you can look to buy the most depressed oil stocks that have been badly hammered by the drop in oil prices on the theory that these shares will climb the most if oil recovers.
I don’t yet have any candidates in the second group. In the first group, I’d look for producers with a big footprint in the low cost shale geologies of the Permian basin. Two choices there would be Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) and RSP Permian (RSPP). Currently stocks like these aren’t down much on the drop in oil prices. RSP Permian, for example, has only declined to $37.16 at the close today, November 4, from $42.20 on October 14. I think it’s worth waiting to see if these stocks will fall further along with oil.