Why Oil Can’t Get a Break.

For the past month, oil has been trading like death warmed over. There was every reason to take it through the roof this morning. Tension between Syria and Turkey is escalating, putting at risk a pipeline that delivers 590,000 barrels a day to the European markets. There were riots in Jordan. Yet another car bomb exploded in Beirut, killing the anti-Syrian leadership.

What did we get in the price? A rally of a few cents in Brent crude before another two-dollar selloff. It seems that oil just can’t get a break. It is a classic trader’s nostrum that if a market can’t rally on good news, you sell the daylights out of it. That has never been more true than for crude.

The harsh reality is that the fundamentals for oil are deteriorating faster than geopolitical developments can support it. China, the world’s largest marginal new buyer of oil, reported last week that Q3 GDP came in at 7.4%, down from 7.6% in Q2 and well off the country’s 8% growth target for 2012. Oil consumption in the Middle Kingdom is falling so fast that some of my friends in Beijing are actually reporting seeing the occasional clear day.

I have been a bear on Texas tea, betting on its downfall since mid-September (click here for Oil is Not Looking So Hot) . Since then, I have been using short positions in oil as excellent downside hedges against my other longs in gold (GLD) and Apple (AAPL).

Oil got within pennies today of reaching my initial downside target of $88/barrel. But after looking at the dire technicals for oil below and you have to conclude that $80 a barrel is somewhere in our future, and perhaps lower.

Markets have to breathe, so I wouldn’t rely on this as a one-way trade. Cover shorts on those horrendous, “RISK OFF” down days so you can resell the rallies. The best short side play is in the United States Oil Fund ETF (USO). The vicious contango in the holdings of this fund, or the premium of far month oil futures contracts to front month ones, vaporizes its value over time and means you get a lot more action on the downside than the upside.

You can either buy puts and put spreads on (USO), sell short calls or call spreads, or take outright short positions in the ETF. And be sure to delay filling up your tank, as the price of gas could fall up to 50 cents in the coming month.

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