This is the line in the sand for crude oil

After slipping a bit to settle at $49.98 on Wednesday, crude oil rose on Thursday to finish the session at $50.79. And while oil's recent moves may seem moderate, the commodity's flirtations with the $50 per barrel mark give the daily machinations of oil prices great moment, according to RJO Futures senior market strategist Phillip Streible.

"$50 is considered the bull/bear line and this is where a tug of war comes into play between supply and demand," Streible wrote to CNBC on Tuesday.

In the bull case, OPEC nations "continue to comply with the [production] cuts" and there is "ongoing discussion of extending those cuts." Additionally, in this bull case, U.S. crude oil stockpiles drop. And from a macroeconomic standpoint, "a strengthening global economy" prevails.

If these catalysts transpire, crude would find itself above $50, in Streible's view.

Yet Streible also lays out a bear case, in which production increases in the U.S., as well as in Libya and Nigeria; oil inventories rise as seasonal demand falls off, and the dollar strengthens thanks to expectations of tighter Fed policy.

Obviously, crude oil would likely fall below $50 if the full bear case plays out.

With so much up in the air, and with the chart at a precarious level, Streible advises playing it close to the vest.

"Start by playing the long side — buying at or near $50," with a target of $53, but with a plan to exit the trade if crude hits $49, Streible recommends.

Yet once oil gets to $53, "sell at $53 with a $55 stop loss targeting a washout to $47," the trader added.


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Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen joined CNBC in December 2013 as a correspondent, focusing on the global consumer. She is co-anchor of the 10AM ET hour of CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" (M-F, 9AM-11AM ET), broadcast from Post 9 at the New York Stock Exchange.

In March 2018, Eisen was named co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F, 1PM-3PM ET), which broadcasts from CNBC Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

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