Strategies behind the Iran sanctions — Arab News' weekly energy recap

Crude oil prices continued their downward momentum with Brent crude falling to nearly a three-month-low at $72.83 per barrel. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2018
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Strategies behind the Iran sanctions — Arab News' weekly energy recap

RIYADH: Crude oil prices continued their downward momentum with Brent crude falling to nearly a three-month-low at $72.83 per barrel.
WTI also fell to $63.14 per barrel. The commitment of Saudi Arabia and Russia to offset any shortages after the imposition of sanctions on Iran have eased oil prices. Noticeably, Saudi Arabia increased its production to 10.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in October and is capable of increasing output further if needed. Russia produced at a post-Soviet-era peak of 11.36 million bpd in September. This news has comforted the market with the knowledge that any supply shortages from Iran will be effectively met.
Tomorrow, the US economic sanctions on Iran will come into force. These sanctions were supposed to take Iranian oil exports to zero amid the “highest level of economic sanctions” imposed. However, the US granted waivers to Iran’s top buyers, so that Iran will still be able to legally export at least one million bpd.
Even prior to the sanctions, Iran’s crude oil exports went down from 2.2 million bpd to 1.5 million bpd, as most of Iran’s customers have found other suppliers. Despite the US waivers, many nations will continue to look for other options to purchase the crude oil they need, as the US waivers could be withdrawn with little warning.
It is not clear yet if Iranian condensate will be included in this latest round of sanctions. It was not included during the 2012 sanctions because the Obama administration did not consider condensates to be crude oil. Much of Iranian condensate is from natural gas processing plants. There has been no Trump administration policy statement on whether Iranian condensates will be treated the same way as crude oil.
Any crude oil Iran can sell will be some relief for the country as it is running out of storage. Early last month, Iran was forced to move two million barrels of crude into a bonded storage tank at the port of Dalian in northeast China. It used a similar tactic during previous US sanctions. Such a ploy is necessary so that Iran can maintain enough storage for condensate from its natural gas fields. Otherwise, they would be forced to shutter natural gas production. That would cause severe unrest among its population since natural gas is used for about 70 percent of Iranian domestic energy consumption, including home heating.
China is the largest importer of Iranian crude. China used to be the largest importer of US shale oil until the outbreak of the US-China trade dispute. Now is the time for China to play its cards, inviting the US to de-escalate the trade dispute if China agrees to buy US crude in place of Iranian barrels. Considering that China’s trade surplus with the US has hit record highs, this could be a win-win situation. The only question is whether the US oil export infrastructure can keep up with the volumes needed. US oil exports have faced some challenges lately, dropping to 1.5 million bpd from a peak of two million bpd.
Another issue, which is also uncertain in regards to the US sanctions, is the small amount of trade of Iranian crude oil which is done through small banks outside the US financial system. Those banks helped Iran to export oil during 2012 sanctions. This is despite the fact that Iranian oil tankers will face huge challenges in securing insurance that is mandated by the refineries’ discharging ports.
Finally, it is unknown if the sanctions will include Iran’s “swap” arrangements with neighboring countries. Iran does oil-gas swaps with Caspian Sea nations. It also does oil swap deals with these countries, so that Tehran can supply northern areas with oil processed at the Tehran, Tabriz, and Arak refineries without having to transport it all the way from wells in the south. In another swap deal, Iraq sends oil from its northern Kirkuk fields to Iran by road, to be refined in Iran.
In return, Iran sends the same amount of crude to Iraq’s southern ports for exports. These swaps are considered an outlet for Iranian crude oil and US sanctions on them could cause considerable disruption.


‘Don’t be too optimistic’: Huawei employees fret at US ban

Updated 26 May 2019
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‘Don’t be too optimistic’: Huawei employees fret at US ban

  • This week Google, whose Android operating system powers most of the world’s smartphones, said it would cut ties with Huawei
  • Another critical partner, ARM Holdings, said it was complying with the US restrictions

BEIJING: While Huawei’s founder brushes aside a US ban against his company, the telecom giant’s employees have been less sanguine, confessing fears for their future in online chat rooms.
Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei declared this week the company has a hoard of microchips and the ability to make its own in order to withstand a potentially crippling US ban on using American components and software in its products.
“If you really want to know what’s going on with us, you can visit our Xinsheng Community,” Ren told Chinese media, alluding to Huawei’s internal forum partially open to viewers outside the company.
But a peek into Xinsheng shows his words have not reassured everyone within the Shenzhen-based company.
“During difficult times, what should we do as individuals?” posted an employee under the handle Xiao Feng on Thursday.
“At home reduce your debts and maintain enough cash,” Xiao Feng wrote.
“Make a plan for your financial assets and don’t be overly optimistic about your remuneration and income.”
This week Google, whose Android operating system powers most of the world’s smartphones, said it would cut ties with Huawei as a result of the ban.
Another critical partner, ARM Holdings — a British designer of semiconductors owned by Japanese group Softbank — said it was complying with the US restrictions.
“On its own Huawei can’t resolve this problem, we need to seek support from government policy,” one unnamed employee wrote last week, in a post that received dozens of likes and replies.
The employee outlined a plan for China to block off its smartphone market from all American components much in the same way Beijing fostered its Internet tech giants behind a “Great Firewall” that keeps out Google, Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other foreign companies.
“Our domestic market is big enough, we can use this opportunity to build up domestic suppliers and our ecosystem,” the employee wrote.
For his part, Ren advocated the opposite response in his interview with Chinese media.
“We should not promote populism; populism is detrimental to the country,” he said, noting that his family uses Apple products.
Other employees strategized ways to circumvent the US ban.
One advocated turning to Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao to buy the needed components. Another dangled the prospect of setting up dozens of new companies to make purchases from US suppliers.
Many denounced the US and proposed China ban McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and all-American movies and TV shows.
“First time posting under my real name: we must do our jobs well, advance and retreat with our company,” said an employee named Xu Jin.
The tech ban caps months of US effort to isolate Huawei, whose equipment Washington fears could be used as a Trojan horse by Chinese intelligence services.
Still, last week Trump indicated he was willing to include a fix for Huawei in a trade deal that the two economic giants have struggled to seal and US officials issued a 90-day reprieve on the ban.
In Xinsheng, an employee with the handle Youxin lamented: “I want to advance and retreat alongside the company, but then my boss told me to pack up and go,” followed by two sad-face emoticons.