Iranian Sanctions 2.0: Oil Market Risks and Price Stakes

Before the recent announcement on Iran sanction waivers, the base case for most analysts was that the US would renew the waivers allowing a few buyers to continue importing limited quantities of Iranian oil. The logic behind this thinking was very simple: the Trump administration would not risk an oil price spike that could endanger US growth prospects and hurt motorists by tightening sanctions on Iran and disrupting oil exports further. Thus, President Trump’s latest decision not to reissue waivers caught the market off guard and caused a mini rally in the oil price with Brent prices reaching a six month high of near $75/b. Trump has been keen to emphasize that the US secured offset commitments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and that these countries ‘along with other friends and allies, have committed to ensure that global oil markets remain adequately supplied … and that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market’.

This latest decision comes on the back of a quarter which saw market fundamentals tighten due to deep output cuts from Saudi Arabia, which exceeded the pledged target, the sharp deterioration of Venezuelan output, and demand remaining relatively healthy despite widespread pessimism about global growth prospects. As the Brent price consolidated at above $70/b in early-April, market focus quickly shifted to whether OPEC+ will relax its output cuts or even exit the deal altogether in June. The US campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran has added another layer of uncertainty to an already complex web of events; Saudi Arabia’s response, the future of the OPEC+ agreement, the success of the US in driving Iran exports to ‘zero’, as well as demand prospects on both the upside and the downside. This comment assesses these risks and discusses the market outcomes under the different choices facing OPEC and Saudi Arabia.

By: Bassam Fattouh , Andreas Economou