Business & Media Institute
Aug 10, 2010
You might wonder how the media – and, more to the point, the oil markets – have missed an important story like this.
On Aug. 8, Iran announced over its state-run airwaves that four new submarines were added to its fleet . But very little has been said about the potential havoc this technological advance could allow the Iranians to play with the world oil markets.
However, on CNBC’s Aug. 9 broadcast of “Street Signs,” CNBC contributor John Kilduff , vice president and co-head of MF Global, warned that with this new threat that could endanger the Strait of Hormuz – a major oil shipping point – $200-a-barrell oil is quite possible.
“It’s the mother of all oil supply choke points,” Kilduff said. “There’s just no two ways about it. Really, it’s a pick your number. But I think $200 a barrel, given that we’re $80 now, you get an easy double. And, then another 20 percent on top of that gets you to $200. It sounds, well it is horrific. It would be dislocative to the global economy. But it’s certainly within the realm of possibilities. And you know, it really feels like it’s just a matter of time here before something happens within that strait. As you pointed out and were discussing there, it’s only two one-mile wide shipping lanes. So it’s easily blocked by various parties. Not just the Iranians.
Another report had surfaced that a Japanese oil tanker had suffered damage from a terrorist attack , which “Street Signs” anchor Erin Burnett pointed out. The report underscored the vulnerability of energy markets so dependent on a volatile and vital region of the globe.
“Right, that’s what brings me to this story that happened a few days ago,” Burnett said. “That was sort of interesting. The markets sort of brushed it off. And I’m wondering what you think about whether that was appropriate. That the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. military hasn’t fully weighed in here, but the UAE said that there was a terrorist attack by water to a Japanese oil tanker in that very narrow strait. If true, that actually seems to be very significant, simply because it really hasn’t happened before.”
“That’s right. You know, it’s almost being treated as if you came out of the supermarket and you’ve got a dent in your bumper in the back of the car,” Kilduff responded. “It was a weird picture on page A8 of whatever paper you want to pick. But you know, add it to the list. I mean, certainly we know that this has been going on. There’s been other various attempted attacks in Saudi Arabia at Ra’s Tannūrah, which is their major oil export facility, that was thwarted. And we continue to see efforts here to attack shipping interests in the area. Because they know, terrorists know this is the mother load. And they don’t necessarily have to be successful, either. If they can breathe a sort of sense of danger about the viability of shipping through the strait, they’ve done their job. Prices will go up.”
Kilduff warned that sanctions from the United States and the European Union could spur retaliation from Iran and force the price up.
“Certainly here if we start to see more of these, also the temperature in Iran is going to be going up as we go forward here,” Kilduff said. “I mean the administration, the EU, are giving the new round of sanctions some time. But they seem to be biting, which will cause Iran to act potentially a little rascally in the region and lash out, potentially. So, we’re on the path to a showdown one way or another, which easily pushes us up and justifies the $90 or the $100 price points.”
With oil treading around $80 a barrel, an attack from Iran would lead to a buy-now, think-later reaction in the oil markets and the price would escalate to the $200 mark.
“If the headline hits that there’s been an attack on the shipping interest in the Strait of Hormuz and the shipping lanes are closed, we’re not going to sit there and take time to parse it,” Kilduff said. “It’s going to be buy as fast as you can. That will cause that upwards of that $200 print right off of the bat.”
This threat still hasn’t impacted the market. The price of light crude settled up 78 cents on Aug. 9  to right above $81 a barrel.