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Iran’s ‘oil for execution’ plan: Old ideas in a new wrapping

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This week Iranian Oil Ministry is going to officially start a new plan that is aimed to be a new way for selling oil and tackling the pressures imposed by U.S. sanctions on the country’s oil industry.

The plan is to execute a barter system which allows domestic and foreign companies, investors and contractors to carry out projects in Iran in exchange for oil (I would like to call it “oil for execution”).

In this regard, as the official inauguration of this new program, a business contract will be signed within the next few days, under which a domestic company is going to receive crude oil in exchange for funding a project to renovate a power plant in Rey county, near the capital Tehran.

At the first glance, the idea of offering oil in exchange for execution of industrial projects seems quite a new idea, however unfortunately it is no more than the same old structure under a new façade.

U.S. sanctions and Iran’s coping tactics

Since the U.S.’s withdrew from Iran’s nuclear pact in May 2018, vowing to drive Iran’s oil exports down to zero, the Islamic Republic has been taking various measures to counter U.S. actions and to keep its oil exports levels as high as possible.

The country has repeatedly announced that it is mobilizing all its resources to sell its oil, and it has done so to some extent. However, considering the U.S.’s harsher stand in the new round of sanctions, the situation seems more complicated for the Iranian government which is finding it harder to get its oil into the market like the previous rounds of sanctions.

Selling in the gray market, offering oil in stock exchange, offering oil futures for certain countries, bartering oil for basic goods and finally bartering oil in exchange for executing industrial projects are some of the approaches Iran has taken to maintain its oil exports.

A simple comparison between the above mentioned strategies would reveal that they are mostly the same in nature, and there are just small differences in their presentation and implementation.

For instance, let’s take a look at the “offering oil in stock market” strategy, and to see how it is different from the new idea of “offering oil in exchange for development projects”.

Oil at IRENEX vs. oil for execution 

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main strategies that Iran followed in order to help its oil exports afloat has been trying new ways to diversify the mechanisms of oil sales, one of which was offering oil at the country’s energy stock market (known as IRENEX).

In simple words, the idea behind this strategy was that companies would buy the oil which is offered at IRENEX and then they would export it to destination markets using whatever means necessary.

Since the first offering of crude oil at Iran Energy Exchange (IRENEX) in October 2018, the plan has not been very successful in attracting traders, and during its total 15 rounds of oil (including heavy and light crude) offerings only 1.1 million barrels were sold, while seven offerings of gas condensate have also been concluded with no sales. This has made some energy experts to believe that this whole strategy is doomed to fail.

The most important challenge that Iran has been faced in executing this approach is the impact of U.S. sanctions on the country’s banking system and its shipping lines, since the purchased oil, ultimately has to be transported from the agreed oil terminals via oil tankers to different destination across the world. 

With the previous strategies coming short, nearly six months after the first offering of oil at IRENEX, in early May, Masoud Karbasian, the head of National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) announced that the company plans to barter oil for goods and in exchange for executing development projects.

However, the “oil for execution” part wasn’t implemented until this weekend when Head of Thermal Power Plants Holding Company (TPPH) of Iran, Mohsen Tarztalab announced that the company is going to sign a €500 million contract under the new “oil for execution” framework for renovation of Rey power plant near Tehran.

According to Tarztalab, the TPPH decided to go for the deal after the sanctions prevented Japan from financing the renovation of Rey power plan.

Based on this deal, TPPH is going to renovate the power plant and in return NIOC will pay for the services in the form of crude oil. Clearly, TPPH is then in charge of the received oil and it’s their concern weather to export it or sell it inside the country.

A closer look at this deal, reveals how similar it is to other approaches that NIOC has been taking. Just like the oil offered at IRENEX, in this model, too, a company is left with an oil cargo which is banned from entering global markets. The buyers are once again facing financial barriers and shipping difficulties.

Although, like the first oil offering in which a few companies risked buying some oil, this time, too, TPPH, is making a significant gamble in signing this deal, but, just like the IRENEX experience, it seems really improbable for more companies to follow the state-owned TPPH’s footsteps.

Final thoughts

The need for taking all necessary measures for withstanding the economic pressures of the U.S. sanctions is an obvious fact, however the ways of doing so should be chosen more carefully.

It seems that the government has been only wrestling with the “problem” here rather than attempting to find practical “solutions”.

Fortunately, in the past few months, the government seems to have seen the fact that the best way to withstand any economic pressure is the transition from an oil-dependent economy to an active, self-sufficient and independent economy which is more invested in its potentials for trade with neighbors rather than the oil market. 

Solutions like offering oil in the energy exchange or oil for execution might be some kind of transition from traditional oil sales to new approaches, but they are not ultimate solutions in the face of sanctions.

To overcome the current economic conditions, the government has realized that it should have medium- and long-term planning and policy making. 

Active diplomacy and attention to the energy needs and capacities of the neighboring countries and offering discounts for oil products, although are more time-consuming ways to increase oil sales, but will be more successful than the ways we discussed, and will yield greater benefits for the country.

From our partner Tehran Times

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How U.S.-China trade deal is going to impact Iranian oil exports?

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U.S., and China are going to sign a trade deal, which is expected to ease the tensions between the two economic rivals and push the global economy out of recession and bring markets back to life.

The deal, which is labeled as the “Phase 1 trade deal”, is going to be signed by U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s Vice Premier Liu He, at the White House.

Despite the undeniable positive impact of the deal on the global markets, the consequences of this deal for the Iranian oil market could be a little complicated. Since, on one side, the increase in oil prices as the result of the trade deal would benefit the Iranian oil industry like all others, but on the other side, it could force China to take some reassuring actions in order to show its determination for ending the trade war.

That means, under U.S. pressures, and to cement the agreement with the Americans, China could probably cut or even end its oil imports from Iran. 

The U.S.-China-Iran triangle

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been escalating in recent weeks after the U.S. assassinated the top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike, and Iran answered with an attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq. 

Following Iran’s revenge, Washington imposed new sanctions on the Iranian metal sector and some of the country’s senior officials.

The Trump administration has also intensified the pressure on Iranian allies, like China, for reducing their economic transactions with the Islamic republic and follow the Americans’ lead in isolating Iran.

China, however, so far, has been resisting such pressures and despite the U.S. threats and imposing penalties on Chinese tanker companies dealing with Iranian oil, the country has continued to import oil from the Islamic Republic.

Now with the U.S. and China on the verge of signing the significant agreement, the Trump administration is using this deal as leverage to make the Chinese side bend to their wills in cutting ties with Iran.

Earlier on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, told Fox News that “The United States is working closely with China to have it cut off altogether imports of Iranian crude oil.”

Possible deal outcomes

As I mentioned earlier, despite the U.S. sanctions, China still remains Iran’s top oil customer, and the idea of the Asian country cutting ties with Iran would be a huge blow to the Iranian oil industry and economy in general.

However, despite all the hype around the trade deal between the U.S. and China, many believe that this deal is just the first step toward a possible truce and the two sides have a long way ahead for reaching a complete alliance.

As reported by Reuters, Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Vice President said on Monday that the Phase 1 trade deal “stops the bleeding” but does not end the trade war.

So it is very unlikely that China would lose one of its biggest trade partners in the Middle East region over a deal which is not even very promising.

Considering the fact that, so far, Washington has done everything in its power to cut off Iran’s oil exports to zero, but it hasn’t succeeded in this regard, under the current circumstances too, it is unlikely that its pressure on China will lead to a disruption of the country’s oil exports.

Therefore, the trade agreement could also have a bright side for the Iranian oil industry. That is to say, a proper trade deal could benefit the global economy and leads it out of recession and thereby alleviate the dark prospect of oil demand. 

The trade deal could act as a stimulus for demand growth and, by removing the biggest obstacle to the rising of oil prices over the past year, push the oil prices to higher levels, and consequently boost Iran’s oil revenues. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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TANAP Is Inaugurated: What Southern Gas Corridor Promises To The Europe And Stakeholders?

Aliyar Azimov

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Ever since the creation of mankind, human beings have always been in search of energy. Several conflicts and wars happened over energy resources for many centuries. Depletion of energy resources is the most important challenge that the major powers are struggling for. Energy policy is a big issue for almost any country in the world which is dependent on external resources. Energy consumption in the EU is more than any other region in the world while being poor in terms of energy sources. Implementation of renewable alternative energy projects requires proper and expensive infrastructure, which not all of the states are capable of it in an economic context. Therefore, alternatives and new routes in the traditional energy sources are vital priorities for the EU.

Since the last gas dispute with Russia, the EU has started to build effective policies to bring energy sources safely to the internal market by efficient transportation. Thus, the EU is trying to reduce energy dependency level on Russia by using geographical proximity advantage to the energy centres. In this sense, the Caspian region offers more stable and secured energy flow considering the fact that the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project is designed for this purpose between the region and the EU. Therefore, the EU is providing substantial support for the reconstruction and development of the infrastructure of gas pipelines, which passes from transit countries such as Georgia and Turkey and brings energy resources to Europe. There are several important reasons that the EU took into consideration while implementing SGC. Firstly, the 2006 and 2009 gas dispute showed that Ukraine is not a reliable transit country anymore. Instead, Turkey can be the more optimal alternative route as it has a desire to become a regional power. Secondly, Azerbaijan offers more stable and secured energy supply by using its foreign energy relations experience from 1994. Also, Azerbaijan is more interested in to cooperate with the West in energy relations rather than sticking into one direction and using intermediary actors. Because having reliable and effective transportation networks for easy access to the world market is essential for economic development and security of Azerbaijan due to its geographical location as a landlocked state. Thirdly and most important factor is security. In the modern era, the prior direction of the states’ foreign policy is the solution of the security problem. Eastern part of the EU, especially CEE countries, are highly dependent on Russian gas, which makes them go under both political and economic pressures from time to time. Therefore, the principal direction of the EU is to ensure energy security as well as the national security of the Member States by diversifying their economic trade partners. Energy security can be described either additional category of the national security or a category which is based on the synthesis of economic and political security. Thus, as the energy security has both economic and political implications, the EU makes great efforts to protect its borders from any threat by addressing to the issue in two ways; international aspect which is targeted to provide reliable, cost-effective and low-risk energy imports to the domestic warehouses, and local aspect which is intended to establish uninterrupted supply of energy with affordable price for the population and industrial workers (consumers).

TANAP AND AZERBAIJAN-EU ENERGY RELATIONS

In 2011 Azerbaijan and the EU signed a joint declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor. SGC was more an optimal and promising version of the Nabucco pipeline project. The direction of the project was also crucial for Europe because the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) in the SGC will deliver Azerbaijani gas to the South of Europe. Thus, this pipeline both will meet the gas needs of these regions and diminish Europe’s energy dependence on Russia slightly. Unlike Nabucco, the SGC is a more promising and strategic start to bring gas resources from the Caspian Sea, Middle East, and Central Asia. The primary purpose of this project is to diversify energy routes by using completely new and alternative directions. The geopolitical significance of the TAP project is quite high in terms of diversifying energy sources. Although the main direction of the TAP project is Italy and Greece at initial stage, the pipeline can supply Azerbaijani gas to several European countries, such as Austria, Central Europe region, Bulgaria, Balkan countries, Southern Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as United Kingdom, Germany, France and Switzerland.

The project was announced on November 17 2011 at the Third Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum held in Istanbul and following this a memorandum of understanding was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey on December 26 2011. The opening ceremony of TANAP was held on November 30, 2019, in Ipsala of Turkey’s Edirne province. Ipsala is located near the Turkey-Greece border, and TANAP is connected to the TAP, which will bring Azerbaijani gas to European region directly. TANAP is the largest and central segment of SGC and has strategic importance for both Azerbaijan and Turkey. First and foremost, Azerbaijan will be able to transfer its natural resources directly into the European market for the first time in history. Second, by joining this project, Turkey reaffirms its position in the regional security by becoming a reliable regional energy hub. Third, European states support the energy supply from the Caspian Sea to the European market and by providing economic and political support. Thus, SGC is a multinational natural gas pipeline supported by the European Commission and financed by the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Despite the US has not invested and will not get any commercial benefit from the project, Washington supports TANAP due to its promotion of diversification of energy supplies.

The EU is making significant efforts to diversify its energy supply and deliver Caspian gas to Europe without Russian intervention. On the other hand, procedures between the EU and Azerbaijan show that Azerbaijan is interested in independent cooperation with the EU. Although the Nabucco project failed, with the choice of TAP and TANAP projects, Azerbaijan proved its pragmatic partnership and its aim to increase revenues. At the same time, from its independence, the absence of internal conflicts in Azerbaijan, continuous promotion of peace, active involvement in international missions resulted in a robust, durable and stable economy and political system. In fact,as long as Azerbaijan is interested in delivering energy to the West by supporting transit projects, the EU does not face any difficulties in the region.

In order to describe the big picture, as presented by the EU Commission prior to the global financial crisis and alternative energy routes, it is essential to note that volume and cost are not the only elements at stake in the SGC.It has crucial geopolitical consequences. Building East-West transportation corridor passing through South Caucasus to connect Europe to Asia offers to establish new infrastructures, railways, highways and pipelines, new job opportunities, security as well as different transport facilities. This corridor sits right at the intersection of both politics and economics. In terms of economics, it creates new chances for the regional countries to connect to global markets and to stimulate economic development by fostering integration with the global economy. On the other hand, politically, it enhances the strength of sovereignty of both sides by opening new supply routes. Because the creation of transit corridors requires diversified access to the international arena considering the fact that being dependent on a single route may emerge potential blockade by the exporter.

Azerbaijan is one of the main actors of this corridor and can supply gas to the European market by improving European energy security and without creating additional geopolitical tension. Azerbaijan has experienced energy trade with Europe by implementing the BTC pipeline. Alternative supplies remain its significance by building affordable and relatively more feasible projects with necessary investments. Azerbaijan, in this picture, emerges as the most reliable supplier and trade partner with a clear understanding of supply, demand and transit routes. Therefore, the initiative of SGC, TANAP and TAP together with the EU aims to hinder Russia’s dominance in the European gas market. To put it briefly; SGC offers more benefits rather than its predecessors due to several reasons:

Energy resources in the Caspian Basin are important for the EU, and the geographical location of Azerbaijan makes it ideal and more optimal point for the transportation of these resources;

SGC is not long-distance route as Nabucco, therefore, it is affordable in terms of costs;

SGC will create competitive prices in the energy market, especially for Southern Europe at the first stage, and later for CEE countries;

SGC will strengthen Turkey’s position as a transit country, and enhance the EU-Azerbaijan relations.

In the future, it is planned to give life to the Trans-Caspian energy pipeline by connecting to the SGC. In this context, the legal status of the Caspian Sea defines the strategies of the five Caspian littoral states. Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea gave a ground that the other countries cannot intervene in the projects unless they are official partners. It means that by signing this convention, the five Caspian littoral states can build their energy strategies and policies independently. Thus, if the Trans-Caspian project is to be implemented in the future, it will be able to transport gas to Europe from other regions. The central part of this route will be the Southern Gas Corridor. Thus, Azerbaijan will also play a role in the region as a bridge to connect Europe with Asia, becoming a transit country. This means more investment, stronger infrastructure and well-built East-West relations.

TURKEY IS THE ‘KEY FOR THE ENERGY’

Turkey has limited natural resources which makes it dependent on external energy sources. As energy demand and dependency rate on external sources is increasing, energy issues have increased their weight by becoming the determinant of the dynamic of Turkish foreign policy gradually. The main objective of Turkey’s energy policy is to provide energy promptly to ensure economic growth as well as sufficient, reliable, competitive prices. Turkey imports its 98% energy demand from its energy-rich neighbours such as Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan thanks to its geographical location. On the other hand, Turkey is the vast market for these exporter countries. Therefore, the TANAP project has specific importance and means more than an energy project for Turkey. TANAP will not only diversify energy routes but also will contribute to the security of supply. Turkey considers this pipeline as an important project with its economic dimension because it will lead to the development of economic and political relations between Turkey and regional states. TANAP will improve the effectiveness of Turkey in the region as well as its position in the global energy projects. Another critical point is that Turkey aims to become an energy centre as Austrian Baumgarten if manages to involve as much as energy directions. This is important for the EU as well because by turning into an energy hub, Turkey can ensure Europe’s energy security and provide securitization of energy supply and formation of a market structure in which gas competes gas. Since TANAP offers regional prosperity and security, Turkey takes a critical role in every point of the value chain extending from producer to final consumer.

Since the dissolution of USSR, the Azerbaijan-Turkey axis has brought positive trends both in the political and economic fields. For instance, despite several issues and obstacles at the end of XX century, Azerbaijan and Turkey managed to implement the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (oil pipeline), Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (gas pipeline), and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (railway) projects and strengthen their geopolitical benefits in the world arena. Following this, TANAP project Turkey will gain a strategic momentum against Russia in the context of ensuring energy flow, especially to Europe in the near future.

In conclusion, since the restoration of state independence in 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan has defined the integration and expansion of cooperation with the EU as one of the strategic directions of foreign policy. The economic integration interests of Azerbaijan towards Europe are shaped by geopolitical and geoeconomic position and socio-economic development of the country.The SGC is particularly vital in terms of EU’s energy security. The interest of the European countries in this project results in the construction of new infrastructure for the secure supply of energy resources from the Caspian region to Europe.Additionally, TAP and TANAP will have a positive impact on Europe’s as well as Turkey’s energy economy, while diversifying energy routes because these projects will create competitive prices in energy markets. Also, SGC is considered to be profitable for both the participating countries and companies directly involved in its implementation.

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Oil market outlook 2020: It stands between Geopolitics and Geoeconomics

Shan Saeed

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Global energy market is shivering. I saw this coming since last year and I’ve been sharing about this in my interviews in last few months.  Iran and USA escalation would be bad for the global economic outlook. This is a very precarious time for the global markets. The need of the hour is diplomatic brinkmanship which lacks at the moment. Engagement strategy between Iran and USA looks a far fetched dream now.

And if we get oil prices over $100 a barrel, kiss the global economy and equity markets good bye. Global economy will lead into deeper recession Tangible assets like Real estate, gold and silver shine in tempestuous times.

Geopolitical Risk Is Making Impact Across All Asset Classes

1. Geopolitics is always derived from grand strategic objective which is based on the 3/4 variables.

USA Grand  Strategic Objectives are

– Containment of China and Russia

– Control fuel based assets

– Control trade and sea routes

 Why

China is going to invest $400 billion in Iran oil and gas sector. If war breaks out, CPEC would suffer and impacts china’s global trade

– Control Indian Ocean and few important straits

 Markets Are Nervous

If the markets get jittery, USA is to blame for the whole mess. Oil market is already in the BACKWARDATION PHASE I.e (spot price is higher than future price). This is an ominous signal for the market players. Two geo strategic risk happened in less than 4 months.

1. Sept 14 in Aramco field, price went up 14% in one day 2. Jan 3 in Drone attack, price increased by 5.2% in less than 21 hours

History Of Oil Market: Outlier In Prices Possible

The question everyone is asking: what if war starts between  Iran and USA, would we see 2008 levels when oil was trading at $147.17 / barrel on July 11-2008?. Premature to say but tensions are running very high and can turn into major conflict.  Oil touching 3 digits cannot be ruled out according to market experts based in the energy market.

Oil Market Outlook -2020: Bedlam Is The Only Word

Oil market will remain precarious and in the mainstream media news reporting due to possible production cuts / geopolitical risk are coming into the energy market. I foresee oil prices to be touching around $62 to $90/barrel in 2020.

Premises are simple

1. Dollar to stay weaker

2. Geo political risk

3. Production cuts tantamount to 1-2 million barrel per day

4. Bankruptcies looming.

Scenarios—-Deep Analysis

I have structured two possible scenarios taking into account few variables:

Modeling approach

Price history,

Geography,

Economics,

Probability of events,

Statistics of energy market

Market  intelligence report and

Financial implication

SITUATION 1

3 days war between Iran and USA

Price range: 70 to 95

SITUATION 2

7 days or 1 month conflict between the two countries

Price range: $90 to $150/ barrel

In case of war, oil be trading at a premium ranging from $15 to $50/ barrel. Global macroeconomic stability goes into jeopardy. Tough times ahead of us.

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