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Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Time to Call Iran's Bluff on Oil?

Time to Call Iran's Bluff on Oil?

Iranian lawmakers this week expressed support for a measure that would beat the European Union to the punch by cutting off oil exports before the summer. Tehran's measure amounts to a statement of economic warfare to some degree as the European economy continues to drag on the rest of the global market. Yet, if Iran is shipping only 20 percent of its oil to European markets, its more than likely the Europeans would be able to weather the storm.

European lawmakers voted to ban any new crude oil export contracts with Iran and put existing contracts on hold as part of the cat-and-mouse game over Iran's perceived nuclear ambitions. Iranian lawmakers, for their part, said the Europeans might not have to wait very long because Tehran could cut oil exports first, so there!  Iran exports about 2.2 million barrels of oil per day, or roughly 20 percent of its total output, to European consumers. The last time a significant volume of crude was cut off from the world market, the International Energy Agency stepped in with strategic oil reserves. This time, however, Iran, considering its penchant for touting its vast consumer base, will likely send that 20 percent somewhere else.

Cue Riyadh. Saudi Arabia, certainly no friend to the Iranians, said getting more oil to the markets in the event of Iranian crude oil shortage is simply a matter of turning the proverbial knob to 11, though in this case, the sustain relates to a stable oil market. Riyadh already gave assurances to South Korean leaders this week that Seoul could easily get by without Iranian crude.

But what about Europe? Europe needs to worry about higher oil prices like a dog needs fleas. The International Monetary Fund, in a report from January, warned that a halt of Iranian crude oil exports to the eurozone would push oil prices up as high as 30 percent. A European economy, where a lingering Greek debt crisis drags on world markets almost as predictably and with as much regularity as the bell rings at 9:30 am on the New York Stock Exchange, can't stomach a $20 or so increase in crude oil prices. Yet, the IMF said the shock wouldn't last long as "other producers or emergency stock releases" bring some relief "over time."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was summoned before lawmakers this week to answer questions about his economic policies. While that's likely an issue leftover from when one of his top aides was accused of sorcery, of all things, it may be an indication Iran is starting to feel the economic pinch. Tehran, for what it's worth, is already forced to play three-card monte in order to get India to pay for its crude oil shipments. Sure, the Iranians are good at the diplomatic game, playing ball with weapons inspectors just enough to keep working on *ahem* medical isotopes. But the world has more or less brushed off Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, so if Tehran doesn't want to play nice with the Europeans, fine, let them pout.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

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  • Parsi on February 09 2012 said:
    "the world has more or less brushed off Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.." another sign of ignorance in the west. Iranian official said if iran cannot sell its oil no one in persian gulf would be either. You can bet your life on that iran is serious and capable of doing so if thing end up that way. but as other EU and US policy playing dumb is the way to go. The US sanction indeed is criminal as these little beings are happy iran has difficulty to buy wheat for bread. but iran will overcome this challenge like the others.rest assure nuclear technology will grow faster with more public support.
  • Fred Banks on February 10 2012 said:
    I have been corresponding with a former big-wig Ivy League professor, and directing some remarks at one of his flunkies or students or something, who need to learn a few things about economics.

    Daniel Graebner is not in the category of those has-beens and losers, but the problem is that there is a Cold War tinge to his article. Iran is not going to close or attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, and Saudi Arabia is not going to produce enough oil to make up for a hypothetical Iranian shutdown or boycott or this or that, and on the theoretical side, the oil market is a world oil market, and closing down one part of it would affect the whole of it. Etc, etc.

    Please tell Mr and Ms politicians to not make the mistake that was made in Libya, and do something stupid that will send the oil price up to or towards 147 dollars again.
  • Savoir on February 10 2012 said:
    To Parsi: The multi-national forces in the Persian Gulf area will not allow the straits to be closed. Iran knows that if they open fire on ANYBODY, they will be eliminated and not even India, Russia, nor China will supporet them.
  • Robert Hillier on February 10 2012 said:
    If a few supertankers get torpedoed who is going to insure oil shipments from the Gulf? Nobody! i.e. The Strait of Hormuz can be closed without an Iranian navy vessel in sight.
  • Fred Banks on February 10 2012 said:
    All of the above comments deserve consideration, to include mine strangely enough. But let let's forget about Cold War departures and look at the thing from the point of view of economics.

    The WTI oil price is almost at 100 dollars a barrel, and the Brent price is closing on 120 dollars. OPEC has a focal income for this year at approximately the amount they received last year, which was a trillion dollars. Given the condition of the world economy, talking about closing the Hormuz Strait - but not closing it - makes a lot of sense. I'm sure that I don't have to go into details where this matter is concerned.
  • Dave Kimble on February 13 2012 said:
    So many things wrong with this article. The question is not what proportion of Iran's exports go to Europe, but what proportion of Europe's imports come from Iran. For Greece it is over 30%, and Italy close to 20%.

    Saudi spare capacity is, not surprisingly, their worst, cheapest stuff - heavy sour oil that is so corrosive that it has to be partially de-sulphured before it goes into tankers, and has to be fully de-sulphured before it goes into a refinery. That's OK if you already have the equipment in place, but if you are used to refining light sweet crude then you simply can't just switch to Saudi spare capacity overnight.

    > "Saudi Arabia, certainly no friend to the Iranians, ..."
    Too much is made in the western media about this rivalry. They are rivals, but neither of them would go to war over it. In fact as part of a program of calming tensions, Iranian warships visit Saudi ports, and vice versa. The Iranian warships Karck and Admiral Qandi berthed in Jeddah on February 4th.

    The threat to close the Straits of Hormuz was if Iranian tankers were BLOCKADED, not sanctioned. The Navy officer in charge of the recent war games said "If our ships are not allowed through, no one will go through". The western media mis-translated this as meaning sanctions in an attempt to portray Iran as dangerous. They said the Iranians would never carry out the threat because it would mean stopping their own exports. Yes, precisely. But that was not the threat. The threat was that if Iranian tankers were blockaded, they would close the straits.

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