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Iran Said to Seek Yen Oil Payments From India Amid Sanctions

Iran Said to Seek Yen Oil Payments From India Amid Sanctions
Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd., Iran’s biggest Indian customer, rose as much as 1.6 percent. Source: Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd. via Bloomberg

Iran has asked India to pay for oil partly in yen as the two nations seek an agreement on how to maintain trade amid tightening global sanctions, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

At talks in Tehran last week, India proposed to pay its second-biggest oil supplier in rupees through a bank account in the South Asian nation, said the people, declining to be identified because the information is confidential. Iranian officials sought partial payment in yen because they’re concerned that they may not get sufficient value from the rupee, which isn’t fully convertible, according to the people.

The nations have struggled to preserve $9.5 billion in annual crude trade after the Reserve Bank of India dismantled a mechanism used to settle payments in euros and dollars in December 2010. Transactions are currently routed through Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, based in Ankara, which has told Indian refiners it may no longer be able to act as an intermediary, four people with knowledge of the matter said Jan. 10.

European Union foreign ministers agreed to ban oil imports from Iran starting July 1 as part of measures to ratchet up the pressure on the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said in Brussels today.

Iran is already under four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies say they suspect the program is a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge Iran has repeatedly denied, maintaining it is for civilian purposes.

Refiner Shares

Shares of Indian buyers of Iranian oil rose in Mumbai trading. Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd., Iran’s biggest Indian customer, rose 2.1 percent, while Essar Oil Ltd. climbed 2.9 percent and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. gained 0.7 percent.

“This issue has been a concern for investors because it can distort the market for oil and affect these companies if they have to get oil from elsewhere,” Jagdish Meghnani, an energy analyst at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd. in Mumbai, said by telephone today. “Any sign of a resolution between the countries will help the shares.”

The Indian rupee has fallen 8.9 percent in the past 12 months, the most among major Asian currencies, while Japan’s yen has strengthened 7.4 percent in the period, making it the best-performing currency in the region, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Exemption Request

India is exploring how it could pay Iran in yen, although a plan hasn’t been decided, the people said.

Japan asked the U.S. administration for an exemption from a law that would punish banks doing business with Iran and won a U.S. pledge to implement the measure “cautiously,” Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said Jan. 20.

The Persian Gulf nation is studying the option of opening an account in an Indian bank, which can be used by refiners to deposit payments in rupees and fund its own imports from the South Asian country, they said.

India’s central bank needs to give its approval for Iran to open a local account, the people said. The Reserve Bank of India is considering options to solve the payments issue over Iranian oil, Deputy Governor K.C. Chakrabarty said on Jan. 20.

The Gulf nation is concerned that India’s entire crude oil bill can’t be paid through exports to Iran, the people said. Iran’s imports from India are worth about $2.5 billion a year, while its annual oil sales to the South Asian nation are valued at about $9.5 billion, the people said.

Currency Swap

Iran also wants India to invest in non-strategic infrastructure projects in return for crude supplies, the people said.

Last month, Japan agreed to make $15 billion available to India in a currency swap arrangement as Europe’s deepening debt crisis threatened to curtail developing Asia’s access to dollar funding. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda renewed a bilateral swap agreement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Dec. 28. The two nations signed a $3 billion accord in June 2008 that had expired.

The rupee gained 0.5 percent to 50.0825 a dollar at the 5 p.m. close in Mumbai, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yen gained 0.1 percent to 76.91.

Singh discussed alternative financial conduits with Russian officials during his visit to Moscow in December. India, which got 11 percent of its crude imports from Iran last year, is exploring the option of making payments for Iranian crude through Russia’s Gazprombank OJSC, though no deal has been reached, three people with knowledge of the talks said Jan. 9.

Rising Tension

Tensions with Iran have risen, with Vice President Reza Rahimi warning on Dec. 27 that the nation, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, after Saudi Arabia, may close the Strait of Hormuz if western governments block its crude oil sales.

The EU was looking at ways to help limit damage from its oil ban to countries such as Greece that are dependent on crude imports from Iran, and that possible “compensation” would have to be decided before the full ban comes into force, according to Rosenthal.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law measures that deny access to the U.S. financial system to any foreign bank that conducts business with the central bank of Iran. The law includes language that allows the president to waive the sanctions if he determines they would threaten national security.

India opposes sanctions on Iran from anyone other than the United Nations, Ranjan Mathai, India’s foreign secretary, said Jan. 17. India continues to buy Iranian oil, he said.

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