Energy Stat of the Week by J. Marshall Adkins

Energy Stat: Is the Return of U.S. Economic Sanctions a Game-Changer for Iran's Oil Industry?

May 14, 2018

Here is one way you know that oil is in a bull market – all of a sudden, geopolitical headlines actually start to matter. It hadn’t been this way throughout the down-cycle of 2014-2017, but finally, over the past year or so, the market is (appropriately) recognizing that geopolitics can influence oil supply, namely in one direction: down. In recent months, at least some of the day-to-day oil price movement has been attributable to two headline-grabbing sources of geopolitical risk vis-à-vis oil supply: Venezuela and Iran. Last Friday, we previewed the upcoming Venezuelan election and the potential read-through for arguably the world’s worst oil production meltdown. Today, we will turn our attention to Iran, following last week’s decision by the White House to reinstate a range of economic sanctions against it. It is important to look at this issue holistically, from a short-term as well as a long-term standpoint, because the impact can become magnified over time. In the short-term, an actual production disruption is unlikely. Such a disruption would only occur if European or Asian importers of Iranian crude revive their own sanctions, or there is an outbreak of an all-out war – and neither scenario is likely based on what we know today. The longer-term effect will be to add further hurdles for non-U.S. energy company investments in Iran. Such investments have been slim anyway, but if the prospect of U.S. secondary sanctions “scares away” some prospective investors, it will make it even more difficult for Iran to grow oil production over the long run.