January 31, 2013 - 09:55 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Iran's crude oil exports in December leapt to their highest level since European Union sanctions took effect last July, analysts and shipping sources said, as strong Chinese demand and tanker fleet expansion helped the OPEC member dodge sanctions, according to Reuters.
Exports rose to around 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, according to two industry sources and shipping and customs data compiled by Reuters on a country-by-country basis and corroborated by other sources and consultants.
The sources said they expected exports to dip in January from the December peak ahead of new U.S. sanctions.
Western sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's disputed nuclear program halved Iran's oil exports in 2012 from 2.2 million bpd in late 2011, leading to billions of dollars in lost revenue and a plunge in the Iranian currency.
But continuous robust demand from top buyer China and others such as India and Japan, as well as the purchase of new tankers, allowed the Islamic Republic to unexpectedly boost exports late last year.
The United States and the EU are hoping the economic pressure will force Iran to address international concerns about its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes but the West suspects is for making weapons.
Salar Moradi, oil market analyst at oil and gas consultancy FGE, estimated that Iran shipped more than 1.4 million bpd of crude oil in December and forecast that exports would remain between 1.1 million and 1.3 million bpd in the first quarter of 2013.
This represents an increase from a low point of less than 900,000 bpd in September and suggests monthly revenues worth approximately $4.7 billion based on December Brent prices.
The second industry source said the rise in exports to near 1.4 million bpd was a result of traditional buyers finding new ways to secure shipping insurance.
But, like FGE, he estimated that they would fall slightly to around 1.3 million bpd in January.
A fresh round of U.S. sanctions coming into force next month could cap Iran's exports in the coming months as some buyers balk at the prospect of falling foul of the measures.
From February 6, U.S. law will prevent Iran from repatriating earnings it gets from its shrinking oil export trade, a powerful sanction that the U.S. officials say will "lock up" a substantial amount of Tehran's funds.