With stories and analysis pointing to fewer and fewer physical places to store crude oil coupled at the hip with an ever-strengthening dollar, it’s hard to get optimistic on the outlook for energy prices. The cost of a barrel of WTI for April delivery has fallen again ahead of the Fed’s March meeting by 3.4% to $43.33 helping drive down shares in the United States Oil Fund to a fresh 52-week low.
Since the start of March the price of USO shares have fallen from above $19.00 to $16.18 (-15%). Option traders posturing for even lower oil prices appear to be riding the crest of a wave. The number of open positions in bearish strike prices from 16.0-19.0 in the USO has increased by 44% to 1.33 million in the past two weeks and compares to bullish open interest at the same strikes of 370,600 contracts. Bears have built positions of 300,000 at the 15.0, 16.0 and 17.0 strikes as the slide in crude oil prices has picked-up its pace.
Since the rebound ran out of steam on March 4, implied volatility in the April series has jumped from 42% to 54% today. In the options market, that implies traders currently expect the USO to land within a price range of $14.90 and $18.10. By the same token, May expiration crude prices, where implied volatility is running at 57%, currently dictate a price range covered by $37.75 and $50.25 for the cost of a barrel of crude.
Chart shows Bearish USO put option open interest has surged to 1.3 million at strikes from 15.0 to 19.0.