What Iranian Supply Overhang?

Sometimes I really wonder how naïve people are.

Everyone is expecting oil to flood onto the market if the US agrees a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme and eases sanctions on Iran. I read that Iran is storing 30 million barrels of oil at sea as sanctions keep a lid on sales. I am quite sure that Iran has 30 million barrels of oil at sea but for those people who believe that Iran has meekly shut in production because of sanctions, well for you I have a bridge at the bottom of my garden which I would love to sell you.

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Photo Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Photo Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

The reality is that sanctions do hurt Iran, they still produce and export their oil, no matter what the charts and official data say, but right now there are middlemen to be paid and logistical challenges to overcome to rebrand the "Country-of-Origin" of the oil that, I believe, still makes its way onto the market. It happened during the Iraq "Oil-for-Food" programme and for sure it is happening now. All it takes is a comfortable arrangement with some friends in the marketing arm of a flexible oil ministry somewhere that does actually produce oil and where auditing processes aren't quite as precise as, say, in the UK. Of course the ultimate buyer has to be a little flexible too as they need to be happy to get a cargo which isn't quite what it says on the tin. But for a fee of $5/bbl and a discount of $10/bbl you can get a lot of flexibility on a one million barrel cargo.

I have even had the misfortune to do business with some people who would be able to help you out if you needed some of that flexibility.

So yes, Iran wants the sanctions lifted, they would rather get full price for their oil, and for sure there are 30 million bbls of oil on the high seas waiting for the sanctions to lift, but that is the extent of the oil about to flood onto the market; you know, an afternoon's worth of world oil consumption. There aren't wells shut in waiting to be produced, they are all online already. In the long run more companies will be able to invest in Iran and eventually that might boost Iranian production, but negotiating investment deals in Iran is mostly an exercise in frustration, so it will take a long time to make a significant difference to global oil production.

Now, about that bridge...