Iran's Bid for Oil Investment Seen at Risk From Saudi Dispute

  • Saudi cutting ties may slow revival of Iran output, IHS says
  • Iran seeks funds to rebuild industry as end of sanctions nears

Iran’s diplomatic rift with regional rival Saudi Arabia will stiffen the challenge it faces in attracting foreign investment once sanctions on its economy are lifted, according to analysts from IHS Inc., Energy Aspects Ltd. and Emirates NBD PJSC.

The breakdown in ties stoked tensions just as Iran is preparing for the removal of sanctions. An international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, when it takes effect, would free the country to seek more than $100 billion in investment it says it needs to rebuild its oil and natural gas industries.

Regional instability stemming from the diplomatic crisis will threaten these efforts, leading to prolonged power struggles that make it harder for companies to evaluate the risks of investing in Iran, Richard Mallinsonof Energy Aspects said by phone from London.

“That adds to the calculus of making a long-term capital investment decision in Iran,” Victor Shum, IHS’s head of oil market research, said by phone from Singapore. “It will slow down investment, possibly by months or even years, and slow the addition of new output.”

Fifth in OPEC

Iran plans to boost crude exports immediately after curbs are lifted and to attract foreign money and technology to revive energy production sapped by years of under-investment. The country was the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries until sanctions were intensified in 2012. It’s currently fifth-biggest in the group, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran, and the kingdom’s Arab allies are taking similar steps. Qatar, which shares the world’s biggest gas field with Iran, has recalled its ambassador to Tehran, state-run Qatar News Agency reported Wednesday. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also recalled their envoys, according to those countries’ state news agencies.

Tanker Flotilla

All five nations are members of OPEC, and each exports oil through the Strait of Hormuzat the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the world’s biggest concentration of tankers. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer, has resisted Iran’s requests for some in the group to reduce output to make room for the expected increase in Iranian shipments. Sanctions curbed Iran’s sales of crude and condensate to 1.4 million barrels a day in 2014 from 2.6 million in 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in June.

Brent crude rose as much as 2.9 percent, trimming a second weekly decline. Even as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have reached an “even more threatening level,” any oil price premium linked to the unrest was limited since there’s little chance of war or a blockade of Hormuz, Societe Generale analyst Michael Wittner said in a Jan. 7 note.

Iran’s dispute with Saudi Arabia will have only a short-term impact on oil markets and won’t deter it from raising exports, the Iranian oil ministry’s news service Shana reported Wednesday, citing comments by Mehdi Asali, the country’s OPEC representative. State-run National Iranian Oil Co. is in talks with former customers about resuming or increasing crude purchases once sanctions are lifted, Seyed Mohsen Ghamsari, head of international affairs, said in a phone interview on Thursday.

“If you’re sitting 5,000 miles away, perception becomes reality when you’re looking to make a long-term investment,” Anita Yadav, head of fixed-income research at U.A.E.-based lender Emirates NBD, said by phone from Dubai. “The perception is that there’s heightened risk here.”

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