Futures Now

Oil to stay low for a long, long time, according to traders

Futures Now: Crude selling off after OPEC
Futures Now: Crude selling off after OPEC

Crude oil's slide continued on Monday morning, as oil futures broke below $39 per barrel. And with oil producers unwilling to publicly make moves to reduce the supply of oil, traders don't appear to see crude rising back above $50 per barrel any time soon.

On Monday, the first futures contract that shows oil above $50 expires in the second half of 2017. Crude oil for December 2017 delivery (which is more liquid than other far-in-the-future contracts) is trading at just $50.50 per barrel.

Futures contracts don't reflect pure expectations of where that commodity will trade; they also reflect things like the costs of storing that commodity, the extra price that users will pay to have access to the commodity for convenience reasons, and prevailing interest rates.

Yet the crude oil futures curve clearly reflects expectations that the commodity's plunge below $50 is not a short-term phenomenon.

"The futures curve is telling you that the market is totally oversupplied, and will remain so for a long time," commented Andy Hecht, a commodities trader and the author of How to Make Money with Commodities.

The latest bad news for crude came on Friday, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to take a "wait and watch" approach to production levels, rather than taking action as oil prices continue to plummet. That spelled bad news for oil bulls who may have been hoping the oil cartel might signal a policy shift.

"In a nutshell, it tells me that it will take a long time to work through the surplus and traders feel prices won't rise significantly for a while," agreed Anthony Grisanti, a New York-based trader with GRZ Energy.

Read More US oil ends 2.7% lower on OPEC decision, rig count

'Utter powerlessness'

For Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, crude's weakness is a "sign of OPEC's utter powerlessness."

"I saw them throwing their hands up," Croft said in Friday interview on CNBC's "Fast Money."

The options market doesn't expect a swift rise back to $50 either. Based on options pricing, there only about a 20 percent chance of oil trading at $50 or above when the March West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude contract expires.

At this point, the one thing that could prove the market consensus wrong is a shift drop in supply caused by geopolitical reasons, says Hecht.

"The only positive, though it's a big positive, is that the geopolitical premium for oil is non-existent," Hecht said. "That's what the market's discounting too heavily — and it's a huge risk to anyone who's short oil now."

—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg.

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