The hunt for a crude oil bottom continues. But for now, at least, the bulls appear to have some wind at their backs.
A week after WTI crude oil fell to its lowest level in more than a decade, some oil industry stakeholders appear to be hard at work trying to find reasons why the worst is over for crude.
Over the course of the week, oil ministers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Nigeria have all been saying an OPEC production freeze—which may help stabilize prices—is likely.
In a Friday interview with CNBC’s “Fast Money,” Nigeria oil minister Emmanuel Kachikwu said that one a freeze has been initiated, “I’m certainly hoping from prices in the range of $45 to $50, that’s what I’m putting my fingers on.”
He intoned: “Is there a scientific basis for that? Probably not.”
Never mind that Iran’s oil minister called such a freeze a “joke.” Even if it does happen, commitments on the part of certain countries to simply not produce more than they already do would be cold comfort for the oil bulls, given the global supply glut.
So how about a coordinated production cut — the sort of market-manipulating action that an organization like OPEC is arguably designed to take?
In Wednesday remarks, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi dismissed such a step out of hand. “This is not going to happen because not many countries are going to deliver even if they say they will cut production,” the official said. “So there is no sense in wasting our time seeking production cuts.”
The lack of a synchronized message reinforced a belief among many market watchers that the formerly powerful cartel appears well past its prime. Oil trader Bob Iaccino of Path Trading Partners told CNBC that “OPEC essentially doesn’t exist anymore.”
In addition to the coordination issue, OPEC’s power has been severely curtailed by the incredible growth of U.S. oil production.
“The U.S. is the marginal producer now, it’s not OPEC,” Iaccino said in a recent interview on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” He added: “It’s not going to be OPEC that says we’re boosting a hundred million barrels a day or cutting a million—it’s the U.S.”
Still, due to factors related to the seasonality of gasoline production, Iaccino does see crude oil finding a “medium-term bottom,” and rising to $40 per barrel. That is more than $7 above Friday’s settlement price. He doesn’t see it getting much above $40, however.
That would still require a significant break of oil’s recent trading range. Save a few high and low ticks, over the last several weeks WTI has appeared to have become comfortably ensconced between $29 on the downside and $36 on the upside.
Meanwhile, a look to the options market shows what a long-shot Iaccino’s target is considered to be. The way the April crude oil option with a striking price of $40 is trading, the chance of oil finding itself above $40 when the April futures contract expires in late March is considered to be lower than 10 percent.
—By CNBC’s Alex Rosenberg.