Why it pays to be cautious on oil

As private equity turns its attention to the oil and gas sector amid a slide in oil prices, one executive at the SuperReturn industry conference in Berlin stressed caution.

"The question is: when do you engage? Markets have a history of jumping in too soon," Mitch Truwit, co-CEO of private equity and venture capital firm Apax Partners, told CNBC.

He said there was a widely held belief that, because oil prices have moved back up to $50 a barrel, it was time to buy.

"I'm not sure I buy that. We have to let it (the oil price move) play out a little longer," he said. "The effects of things like reducing oil production are not felt in the near term...I bet (oil) will retest lower prices with knock-on effects."


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It comes after a number of private equity executives told CNBC Wednesday that buyout firms had started to turn their attention to the oil sector, which has been hammered by the sharp slide in oil prices since last June. Brent crude has tumbled about 44 percent to around $61 a barrel, while U.S. crude has fallen 50 percent to around $50 a barrel over the same period.

Read MoreHere's how the private equity industry views oil

The impact of the slide in oil prices is proving far-reaching for the sector – slashing the values of firms, triggering job cuts and putting billions of dollars' worth of exploration projects at risk.

"We've seen a 50 percent drop in the price of oil and you see the knock-on effects to the valuations of a lot of companies that have been impacted so people see an opportunity to make money," Truwit added.

Matt Smith, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric, told CNBC earlier Thursday that a build-up of oil supplies would continue to weigh on oil.

Read MoreBrent drops toward $61 as U.S. crude stocks rise

"We've seen another build-up of crude stocks in the U.S. – that's going to exacerbate the supply build-up there and pressure flow ultimately," he said.

U.S. crude stocks rose 8.4 million barrels last week to 434.1 million barrels, a seasonal record high for the seventh straight week, data released on Wednesday showed.

An excess of oil in global markets, reluctance by oil-producing group the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production and a weak global economic recovery have all contributed to the fall in oil prices in recent months.

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