How Do You Trade Crude Oil?
Jan 18, 2022
To many, crude oil trading looks like the wild west: it’s a singular marketplace lacking diversification seen in other risk-on markets like equities; its traditional futures products can swing $1,000s per day; and the energy source’s options boast twice the volatility of the S&P 500.*
With all of that being said, it’s still one of the most popular assets among active traders in derivatives markets. How do they trade it?
The uniformity crude oil presents makes for a great case study in mean reversion. Several years ago, the same standard barrels of crude oil were trading around between $35 and $75. When they journey outside of those bounds is when contrarians tend to jump in.
They sell crude oil when it reaches rarefied air, and they buy it when it’s bottoming out. Though this looks relatively simple given the historical chart, patience and small size is key to withstand the turbulence outside the average range.
The flip side of patience for a contrarian is quickness for a trend follower. Since crude is a volatile, singular market, it does tend to run in the short term when it reaches its historical bounds.
They ride crude oil in whatever direction it’s headed as it moves through outlier areas. For example, buying /SMO when it hit $80 would have been a great trend-following trade, but being nimble is essential to miss large reversals like the one crude saw just a few months ago.
So who’s strategy is the right one? That’s up to you! One of the best parts of trading is that both sides can be profitable. A contrarian can sell to a trend follower as crude moves higher, the trendian can get out for profits $1 higher, and the contrarian can hold for profits after the reversal. Which side are you on?
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*Comparison of CBOE Crude Oil Volatility Index to CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index 1/14/22
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