WASHINGTON The United States’ insistence on zeroing out Iran’s oil exports is starting to cause all kinds of commotion in the global market, keeping confused both experts and buyers as they look straight into what is shaping up to be a chaotic chapter for the petroleum industry.
Iranian officials and experts across the world seriously doubt that the administration of US President Donald Trump would be able to deliver on its ambitious pledge, even though Washington has announced that it will no longer extend oil waivers for Iran when they expire on May 1.
This is while China and several other major purchasers of Iranian energy already complained to the US about the new decision, calling for some sort of extension that would allow them to buy more until they can find an alternative.
Qatar warns US against revoking waivers
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told reporters in Doha on Wednesday that the decision to end the waivers would harm countries that rely on the supplies.
The sanctions should not be extended because they have an adverse impact on countries benefiting from Iranian oil, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told a press conference in Doha.
In Qatar, we do not believe unilateral sanctions bring positive effects for crises which must be solved through dialogue and dialogue only, he added, alluding to his country’s ongoing boycott by Saudi Arabia, the the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain since 2017.
There are already rumors flying around that a short extension would be announced in the coming days to let Iran’s buyers put in orders for long after the waivers expire.
Given President Trumps unpredictable negotiating style, it remains possible that a modest waiver extension will be provided beyond early May, or that sanctions against certain buyers will not be fully enforced if imports are cut dramatically, Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics was quoted as saying by MarketWatch.
However, he argued, given how Washington has been outspoken about its plans, there might be no waivers at all.
Therefore, attention will soon shift to the USs willingness and ability to enforce its zero exports policy,” Sheldon said.
But to make that policy work, the US needs to find viable replacements for Iranian oil.
While Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia have been said to be preparing to increase output to make up for Iran’s missing oil, all three insist that they do not have the ability to boost production immediately.
Iranian exports will not go to zero because there are ways to get around the sanctions, either by switching oil at sea to other tankers or on vessels that can circumvent the sanctions, Marshall Steeves, energy markets analyst at Informa Economics, told MarketWatch.
But Sheldon thought the opposite was true.
“Recent history indicates that few buyers will be willing to risk exclusion from the US market and financial system, judging by the rapid and dramatic reduction in Iranian exports after the US pulled out of the nuclear deal last year,” he argued, pointing to Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with the six world powers.
He said he expected full compliance form most customers, with modest exports continuing to a few buyers without notable exposure to the US.
The uncertainty is causing a price hike in heavier crudes like Norways Grane and Heidrun, according to Reuters. Over April, the price of Grane rose from around dated Brent plus 10 cents to close to dated Brent plus $1.00 a barrel.
Iraqs SOMO also sold 2 million barrels of Basra Heavy crude to Chinas Unipec at a premium of over $2 a barrel to its official selling price (OSP), the highest in months, sources said.
Angola’s State oil company Sonangol was said to have sold a cargo of one of its heaviest grades, Dalia, over the last week for $2 a barrel above dated Brent, a $7 increase from two years ago. Typically, the grade trades at a discount of $1 or more.
This is while some buyers are refusing to buy crude at current prices.
Were resisting it as much as possible, one potential buyer told Reuters.
Meanwhile, analysts say that what really would help end the uncertainty is China’s decision.
They say Beijing is likely to flout the US restrictions, knowing that Washington cannot sanction Chinese companies buying from Iran because they are at the same time key buyers of US oil and liquid natural gas.
Swedens SEB has gone even further, suggesting that Beijing could lift its imports of Iranian crude in the coming months from some 600,000 barrels per day in March to around 1 million bpd.