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Analysis: Iran's oil export descent starts to accelerate in July

Highlights

Exports fall 7% to 2.32 mil b/d

But flows to China, India and Japan rise

European demand continues downward trend

Exports to fall sharply from Aug onwards

London — Iranian oil exports fell to their lowest in four months in July, S&P Global Platts estimates, as key buyers have started to curtail their purchases as the first set of US sanctions on Iran kick in.

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Total estimated export volumes on Aframaxes, Suezmaxes and VLCCs from Iranian ports in July fell by 7% to 2.32 million b/d from 2.49 million b/d in June, according to data from S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow.

Flows from Iran to China and India -- its two key customers -- remained high, but exports to South Korea, Europe fell steadily as these buyers start to elsewhere.

Iran's oil exports have now fallen for three successive months as the country braces itself for the re-imposition of sanctions by the US.

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Iran's oil flows are expected to fall sharply in the coming months as the second round of US sanctions, which target the oil sector, resume in early November.

"We expect Iran oil exports from September to have a higher rate of decline," president of consultancy SVB Energy International Sara Vakhshouri said. "These sanctions will put severe limitations on transactions with Iran and insurance on oil tankers. All of which will make it hard for Iran to sell its oil."

Some sources have said with exports falling, Iran's domestic refinery runs have increased, with a pick-up in gasoline output observed at some of its refineries, and more barrels are expected to go onto floating storage.

Iranian oil production fell to 3.72 million b/d in July -- the lowest since January 2017, according to Platts estimates.

DEMAND FROM CHINA, INDIA CLIMBS

Exports to Asia fell to 1.76 million b/d in July from 1.85 million b/d in June as demand from South Korea and Taiwan dissipated as the former turned to other countries for condensates.

However, loadings to China were 799,452 b/d in July, up from 722,100 b/d in June. Last week, a news report said Chinese officials has rejected US requests to cut imports of Iranian oil but added that China's imports might not rise further than current levels.

Flows to India in July were higher despite some Indian refiners saying they would reduce their reliance on Iran. Iran's oil exports to India rose by more than 40,000 b/d from June to 706,452 b/d in July.

India finds itself in a diplomatic predicament as it tries to maintain stable oil supplies without attracting the ire of the US Administration. But for now India's thirst for Iranian crude has not diminished and has even grown sharply year on year.

LIMITED WAIVERS

Exports to Japan surged to a seven-month high as refiners rushed to secure as many cargoes as possible before US sanctions are re-applied.

Japanese officials visited Washington last week seeking an early exemption to continue to buy Iranian crude but US officials have refused to comment on the talks.

Exports to South Korea fell to zero as it is already starting to find alternative supplies to Iranian condensates after pressure from the US.

The US government is pushing countries to cut Iranian oil imports to zero, but officials have conceded that some limited waivers may be granted. Major customers such as China and India are expected to find ways to continue deals despite the sanctions.

Flows to Europe in July fell to 465,450 b/d from 485,768 b/d as demand from France, Spain, and Turkey fell while interest from Italy and Greece grew steadily.

Spot demand for Iranian crude in Europe has fallen sharply, but those refiners that have term deals with Iran are still honoring their contracts, sources said.

Europe is an important outlet for the OPEC member, and the region was taking around 600,000-700,000 b/d, or a third, of Iranian crude exports until May this year.

Analysts expect Iranian exports to drop by anything between 500,000 and 1 million b/d after full US sanctions are re-imposed on November 5.

Buyers of Iranian crude oil and condensate:

Destination July June May
China 799,452 722,100 751,645
India 706,452 670,433 710,936
Japan 185,709 145,867 106,258
Italy 135,581 71,700 164,967
Turkey 131,548 170,467 99,774
Spain 97,290 103,267 116,258
UAE 96,967 124,100 117,193
Unknown 68,581 0 33,677
Greece 67,354 36,567 103,677
Other Europe 33,677 0 0
South Korea 0 174,300 127,612
Taiwan - 133,133 0
France 0 103,767 55,903
Chile - 32,800 0
Poland - - 33,387
Total 2,322,611 2,488,501 2,421,287

--Eklavya Gupte, eklavya.gupte@spglobal.com

--Jack Jordan, jack.jordan@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Dart, jonathan.dart@spglobal.com