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A severe oil drop like the one that just occurred usually leads to a bounce for crude and equities

Key Points
  • A severe one-month decline in oil prices has historically set up a healthy bounce in the stock market and crude futures, according to investment bank Jefferies.
  • The S&P 500 typically posts a 2.3 percent gain one month after a drop in the cost of crude on the scale of the recent sell-off.
  • West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, typically recovers 5.5 percent over the next month.
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A punishing rout in the oil market could portend a healthy bounce for stocks and crude futures if historical trends hold.

Brent and U.S. crude futures have recently tumbled more than $20 a barrel from four-year highs, plunging into a bear market over the course of six weeks. The pullback dovetailed with a broader sell-off in markets, a surge in global oil supplies and darkening forecasts for demand.

But investment firm Jefferies says there may be a silver lining to the clouds that have descended over the oil market.

"Severe one month declines in the price of oil has not presaged market weakness, quite the contrary, actually," the firm wrote in a research note Sunday.

"Historically, at least, rapid declines in the price of oil have tended to be bullish for the S&P even if it's often easy to spin oil price declines as a negative."

Jefferies researched what happens to stocks and crude futures after a move of two standard deviations to the downside over the course of a month for oil prices.

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Going back to 1990, and excluding the global financial crisis, the typically posts a 2.3 percent gain in the month after a similar drop in the cost of crude on the scale the market just witnessed. Over the next three months, the S&P historically rises 5.4 percent.

West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, typically recovers 5.5 percent over the next month. WTI logs a 7.3 percent jump in the three proceeding months.

Since oil crossed the two standard deviation threshold on Tuesday, the S&P had risen half a percent and WTI had bounced 2 percent by the time Jefferies released the report. Oil prices fell Monday morning after rising for three straight days.

Jefferies says investors can already see an uptick in cyclical, value-oriented stocks since the oil price rout.

The firm created a basket of 10 mostly industrial and materials stocks that have underperformed the broader market by 37 percent this year. Since the lows at the end of October, they have outperformed the market by about 4 percent.

The drop in oil prices now offers "a nice cushion for numbers," Jefferies says.

There's another reason to expect a rally in oil prices. OPEC, Russia and several other producer countries are poised to cut output when they meet early next month. The alliance has reportedly discussed throttling back production by as much as 1.4 million barrels per day, or roughly 1 percent of global oil supply.