Nitesh Shah, Director – Commodity Strategist at ETF Securities has commented on the Iran sanction lift, saying: “Sanctions placed on Iranian oil exports by the US and five other countries were lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency found the country to be compliant with its nuclear agreement with the P5+1 (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council–the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China plus Germany), plus the European Union. Iran expects to lift exports by 500,000 barrels immediately and plans to increase shipments by a further 500,000 barrels within months.
“Despite Iran’s ambitions (which we admit could lead the country to ignore oil economics in pursuit of winning market share), the country’s dilapidated infrastructure is unlikely to support the export of more than 300,000 extra barrels of oil. Iran does not have enough fields in operation. Bringing online fields that have been delayed since 2014 would at most allow for 400,000 additional barrels. Immediately injecting cash investments cannot bring that figure up without a very long delay (18 months at minimum, and more likely two to three years to build new operational infrastructure). Expanding Iranian production significantly will require the build-out of more infrastructure, which would require the assistance of international oil companies. In an era of low oil prices and global oil capex cuts, the appetite to get involved is likely to fall short of expectations.”
Nitesh warns that Iran will encounter difficulty in marketing its oil. “The sanction lift is limited, especially with regard to US corporate involvement. US companies, including banks, insurers, oil companies or any US national cannot be involved in the selling of Iranian oil or the procurement of infrastructure. Sales of Iranian oil cannot take place using US dollars. While European companies have more flexibility, their close ties with the US pose challenges. Had oil prices been higher, Iran’s strategy would have been to offer deep discounts on price to sell to countries like India to compensate for the increased complexity of dealing with its oil. But with oil prices so low, there is little potential for discounting.
“Any expansion on Iranian oil production as a result of the sanction lift will not be picked up in today’s OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report and the earliest point in which we will have any concrete data on production and export increases will be on the 10 February report. We believe that the market will be disappointed with the outcome. Saudi Arabia’s strategy to increase market share by depressing oil prices is working, judging by the size of the announced energy capex cuts in high-cost producing countries. We believe that by OPEC’s 2nd June 2016 meeting, Saudi Arabia will soften its tone and prepare the market for lower production (although little agreement to cut OPEC production will take place at that meeting).
“Demand has meanwhile been recovering strongly in an era of low prices. IEA expects oil demand to rise to 96.71 mb/d by Q4 2016 from 95.28mb/d in Q4 2015. As global capex cuts start to bite, non-OPEC oil production is likely to fall. Factoring in a generous 1 million barrel increase in Iranian exports, would still mean that the market is likely to be in a small deficit by the end of the year.
“As the oil market moves back toward balance, prices will likely recover. But we believe that the disappointment around Iran’s ability to ramp up exports will hit the market earlier and reverse the sharp decline we have seen in recent days.”