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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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The Real Effect Of Iran Sanction Waivers

Iran oil tanker

On the day U.S. sanctions against Iran went into effect, Brent crude traded at US$72.68 a barrel. Today, three weeks later, Brent is down to US$59.59 a barrel and President Trump is congratulating himself on the low oil prices. Instead of shooting up to US$100, oil prices are falling and the U.S. waivers granted to eight large Iranian oil buyers are among the main reasons for this. But how long with the effect of the waivers last?

Bloomberg last week published a round-up of how much each of the seven importers that won waivers are allowed to continue importing from Iran and the numbers suggest these seven countries could continue buying over a million bpd of Iranian crude until the waivers expire next year. However, the key word here is “could”.

Take Japan, for example. One of the world’s top crude oil importers and a large client of Iran, stopped buying crude ahead of the sanctions to improve its chances of scoring a waiver. Now that it has the waiver, Japanese refiners are still not sure they should resume buying Iranian crude, which makes one wonder why they even worked to secure a waiver if they were not going to use it. Yet theoretically, these refiners can import about 100,000 bpd of Iranian crude, down from 165,000 bpd before the sanctions.

South Korea is another reluctant buyer because of its close links with the United States. The country was granted a waiver that would allow it to import Iranian crude at a rate of 200,000 bpd over a period of six months, but refiners have yet to resume imports. Related: Could Oil Prices Fall To $40?

India and China are importing Iranian crude, the former at the allowed rate of some 300,000 bpd, according to order data. The latter, China, was allowed to continue buying Iranian crude at a rate of 360,000 bpd but it also has rights to production from fields in Iran where Chinese companies have stakes, so it may be getting more than that.

India is the country that has had to slash its intake of Iranian crude the most and it is also the country that would have the biggest problem finding an affordable alternative to Iranian crude when the waivers expire. India was lucky pessimistic forecasts for the global economy and indications of oversupply pressured prices, but this may only be temporary: OPEC is talking about production cuts again, after all.

Other importers would also have to find alternative sources of crude that can compete with Iranian crude on prices. These are, to put it mildly, few and far between since Tehran is selling its crude at a discount to maintain market share. Other producers cannot afford to sell at such discounts. So, what happens when the waivers expire?

Importers would have two choices: breach the sanctions and risk Washington’s wrath or switch to costlier crude, which will be even costlier at the time because the end of the waivers will definitely have an impact on prices. These fatter oil import bills won’t do much for these economies’ growth prospects and we just saw last month what pessimistic economic growth prospects do to oil demand outlooks and prices, especially if they concern India and China.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com


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  • Mamdouh G Salameh on November 26 2018 said:
    The claim that the issuing of sanction waivers to eight countries has been among the main reasons for the recent slumping of oil prices is utterly false if not laughable.

    The slumping in oil prices despite US sanctions on Iran proves abundantly clear that the sanctions have so far failed to cost Iranian oil exports a loss of even one barrel. That is despite the fact that the global oil market has been bombarded on daily basis for months prior to the sanctions by projections including IEA’s that the sanctions will cost Iran’s oil exports some 500,000 barrels a day (b/d) to 1.5 million barrels a day (mbd). Furthermore, the issuing of sanction waivers is the clearest admission by theTrump administration that their zero exports option is out of reach and that sanctions are doomed to fail miserably.

    Another reason behind the decline in oil prices is a remaining glut estimated at 700,000 b/d. This small glut has been increased by Saudi Arabia’s and Russia’s wrong decision to add 650,000 b/d to the market six weeks ago and also by rising Libyan oil production.

    Iran’s oil exports estimated to average 2.2 mbd this year go to China (35%), India (33%), the EU (20%) and Turkey (7%). The remaing 5% go to Japan and South Korea.

    China doesn’t need a waiver from the United States to continue buying Iranian crude. China is an economic superpower in its own right and a nuclear power to boot. It is not Djibouti. It will defy US sanctions on Iran at well.

    Moreover, the whole US sanction regime is at the mercy of China and the petro-yuan. China could singlehandedly nullify US sanctions by buying the entire Iranian crude oil exports and paying for them in petro-yuan. For the time being, China is slowly increasing its purchases of Iranian crude. But if no breakthrough is achieved over the escalating US trade war on China during the coming meeting this month between President Trump and the Chinese leader, you can be sure that China will just do exactly that in retaliation against the US.

    India will not stop buying Iranian crude waivers or no waivers. On the contrary, India has been increasing its purchases of Iranian crude even after the waiver was granted. India has never recognized US sanctions.

    The EU (Italy included) is continuing to buy Iranian crude. While there has been slight delay in finalizing the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) (or barter trade), the EU is steadfast in not complying with the sanctions and will challenge the United States to retaliate against them.

    Turkey like India doesn’t recognize US sanctions and has never stopped buying Iranian crude waiver or no waiver.

    South Korea and Japan were granted a waiver provided they cut their Iranian crude imports by 20% or 22,000 b/d which is more than offset by rising imports by China and India.

    All in all, US waivers have neither had any effect on Iranian crude oil exports nor on oil prices. US sanctions are doomed to fail miserably.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Laurent A on November 30 2018 said:
    Mr Salameh
    You did see that right - What is your outlook for WTI price over the next 3-6 months ?
    Thanks L

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