Sanctions on Iran and Venezuela May Empower US Rivals

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Further upside, however, looks limited.

Once the U.S. sanctions are put back in place, companies and countries will have 180 days to reduce their consumption of Iranian oil or face penalties from the USA, according to analysts.

The Iran sanctions could of course turn out to be an empty gesture. European companies had said they would stand by the 2015 global nuclear agreement that saw sanctions against Iran eased in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.

Still, the question of war and peace is impossible to answer.

For China, the looming trade war with the U.S. - the world's biggest economy - is deemed a much bigger problem.

Economists warn that rising oil prices pose a danger to the current economic expansion and could tiresome the effects recently enacted USA economic stimulus.

Their trade ties may even be reinforced as Iranian cargoes would have to seek alternative export outlets, when the USA sanctions are reinstated. But financial markets have a disconcerting habit: predictions viewed by investors as completely obvious often turn out to be wrong. The IEA acknowledged attention of market participants has shifted away from inventories to price volatility.

"We are used to conducting business even with sanctions in place", said another Iranian source. To "buy on the rumor and sell on the news" is a time-honored principle of financial speculation. Brent crude is edging towards $80 per barrel as USA stockpiles fall and amid worries of potential oil supply disruptions from Venezuela and Iran.

This price had never risen above $70 since 2014, when the upsurge in United States shale production caused oil prices to collapse.

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Brent prices have not been above $100/b since September 2014.

Brent crude price reached $80 per barrel today, which is the highest point since November 2014, and is a result of geopolitical tension after President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

OPEC crude production eased by 130,000 barrels per day (b/d) in April, to 31.65 mb/d, on further declines in Venezuela and lower output in Africa, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its Oil Market Report. Washington dropped out of that pact last week, sending oil sharply higher on the belief that Iranian supply will be curbed, when crude inventories are already falling.

The rise in oil prices means further accretion to the nation's Excess Crude Account, into which the difference between the market price of crude oil and the budget benchmark is saved to provide a cushion when oil prices fall or extra cash is needed for spending on infrastructure.

Brent crude futures were last down 65 cents at $77.78 a barrel by 1147 GMT, while US crude futures fell 32 cents to $70.99 a barrel, leaving the spread between the two just shy of a 2015 high of $7 a barrel.

Iran, which produces around 3.8 million bpd and is OPEC's third-largest supplier behind Saudi Arabia and Iraq, could face severe disruption to its exports.

Higher oil prices, in turn, pushed the shares of energy firms in European stock markets higher, helping London's FTSE to set a new all-time high, and the Paris CAC to establish a fresh 2018 peak.

The writer is Chief Economist and Co-Chairman of Gavekal Dragonomics and author of "Capitalism 4.0, The Birth of a New Economy", which anticipated numerous post-crisis transformations of the global economy.

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