Oil prices spike more than 3% on reports that US will end waivers for Iran sanctions – CNBC

The oil tanker 'Devon' prepares to transfer crude oil from Kharg Island oil terminal to India in the Persian Gulf, Iran, on March 23, 2018.

Ali Mohammadi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The oil tanker ‘Devon’ prepares to transfer crude oil from Kharg Island oil terminal to India in the Persian Gulf, Iran, on March 23, 2018.

Oil prices spiked by more than 3 percent on Monday — past highs not seen since November 2018 — after reports that Washington is set to announce that all buyers of Iranian oil will have to end imports, or be subject to U.S. sanctions.

Brent crude futures surged more than 3 percent to over $74 per barrel on Monday morning during Asia hours, while U.S. crude futures rose around 2.33 percent to $65.49 per barrel.

That price spike followed a report by the Washington Post, citing two unnamed State Department officials, that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce that “as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate.” Condensate is an ultra-light form of crude oil.

Following that report, Reuters confirmed the news, citing a source familiar with the matter.

Brent prices have risen by more than a third this year, while U.S. crude has soared more than 40 percent.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington, however, granted Iran’s eight main buyers of oil, mostly in Asia, waivers to the sanctions which allowed them limited purchases for an additional six months.

Impact on India

The eight buyers are China and India — Iran’s biggest customers — as well as Japan, South Korea, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Taiwan.

“The sanctions (are) obviously one of the major movers, I think, which is influencing prices,” said Daryl Liew, head of portfolio management at financial services company Reyl Singapore. He also pointed to stronger-than-expected economic growth data from China last week, which could be driving demand expectations.

Of the buyers of Iranian oil, he said India could suffer the most from Washington’s move.

“I think India is probably one of the key potential countries that might suffer from a higher oil price, in terms of their current account deficit, for example. And that’s going to be basically putting pressures on inflationary pressures as well,” Liew said, speaking on CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Monday.

“No doubt the Indian central bank has … turned to a more dovish stance in recent meetings. But if oil prices continue to hit higher, and inflationary pressures come back into the picture again for India especially, then the central bank probably has to reverse the dovish moves,” he concluded.

Tightening supplies, Libya conflict

That development on sanctions comes as global oil supply is already tightening, with OPEC leading supply cuts since the beginning of this year, to prop up crude prices.

In the U.S., energy firms last week reduced the number of oil rigs operating by two, to 825, General Electric’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its weekly report on Thursday.

Meanwhile, major OPEC oil producer Libya’s capital Tripoli was hit by a series of airstrikes and explosions over the weekend, in escalating violence that could threaten oil supply further.

The country has been torn by conflict since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. It was sent into fresh conflict in recent weeks after its eastern military leader ordered his forces to move in on the capital where the United Nations-recognized government sits.

Analysts and traders keep a close eye on Libya because its oil production has been one of the biggest wild cards in the oil market in recent years. Its output has fluctuated wildly as the nation’s southern oil fields have frequently gone offline amid fighting.

One analyst told CNBC on Monday that the Libya situation will put more pressure on oil prices, particularly if the conflict escalates.

“Libya is producing 1.1 million barrels per day. If things go wrong, immediately somewhere around 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day of oil may be affected,” said Kang Wu, head of analytics for Asia at S&P Global Platts.

“A lot depends on how Saudi Arabia will react to the situation — they have surplus capacity — but supply concerns will keep pressure on oil prices in the short term,” Wu added.

— Reuters and CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.

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