Finger On The Trigger: China's Iran Oil Weapon

Two reports out this week worth paying attention to which could greatly impact oil prices at a crucial moment in which leaders in Tehran are desperately urging China to purchase more Iranian crude: 

First, Reuters notes China continued importing Iranian oil in July for the second month since a US sanctions waiver ended, though at greatly diminished levels compared to the year prior, citing numbers from three data firms:

According to the firms, which track tanker movements, between 4.4 million and 11 million barrels of Iranian crude were discharged into China last month, or 142,000 to 360,000 barrels per day (bpd). The upper end of that range would mean July imports still added up to close to half of their year-earlier level despite sanctions.

And second, this via CNBC early this week, Brent and WTI price could crash if China buys Iranian oil. Bank of America is warning oil prices could potentially crash by $30 a barrel if China ramps up Iranian crude purchases. 

The report summarized:

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch warns the oil price could slip sharply if China buys Iranian oil.

  • Beijing could undermine Washington’s foreign policy stance by ignoring U.S. sanctions placed on Iran.

  • BofA is keeping its $60 per barrel price estimate in place for 2020.

Currently the Trump administration puts Iran's oil exports at a range of 50-70% going to China, and with around 30% going to Syria.

With the US and UK now aggressively choking the Tehran to Damascus trade, given last month's UK Royal Marine intercept of the Grace 1 tanker off Gibraltar, Tehran's economic survival is ever more dependent on selling to China - a country powerful enough to bust US sanctions

Last week Iran's Vice President Jahangiri made a direct appeal to Beijing and "friendly" countries to up their Iranian crude purchases in statements made during a Chinese diplomatic delegation visit. 

“Even though we are aware that friendly countries such as China are facing some restrictions, we expect them to be more active in buying Iranian oil,” Jahangiri reportedly told visiting senior Chinese diplomat Song Tao.

Meanwhile, figures just prior to ending the waiver program:

You will find more infographics at Statista

China's crude imports from Iran have been plunging this summer, sinking almost 60% in June compared to a year earlier. But Beijing could unleash severe oil volatility on global markets if it decides to reverse course; the General Administration of Chinese Customs is set to publish exact details of July imports by origin in the last week of August.

This also as the Chinese Ministry of Commerce threatened countermeasures in response to Trump's fresh threats of a 10% tariff on $300 billion dollars of Chinese goods made a week ago.