Saturday, October 13, 2012

Latest developments in Iran: conditions becoming increasingly desperate

More worrisome signs are emerging of deteriorating economic conditions in Iran. Here are some of the latest news quotes:

1. Crude output is slowing.
NYT: - Daily oil production in Iran, the most important component of its economy, fell in September to the weakest level in nearly a quarter-century, according to monthly data released on Friday by the International Energy Agency. The agency forecast declines in Iran’s ability to produce oil for years to come if Western sanctions were not lifted
2. Trade in general has come under severe pressure. This is likely having a terrible impact on the population, particularly the poor.
Reuters: - Data from maritime intelligence publisher IHS Fairplay showed the overall number of vessels calling at Iranian ports in the year to early October was 980. That figure for more than three quarters of this year compares with 2,740 ships for the whole of 2011 and 3,407 for 2010.

Of that total, the number of visits by container ships - which carry consumer goods ranging from foodstuffs and household items to clothing and toys - was 86 so far this year, compared with 273 for the whole of 2011 and 378 in 2010.

The world's top container firm Maersk Line said this week it had stopped port calls to Iran, citing the risk of damaging trade opportunities especially in the United States.

"Lower shipping volumes may also mean that importing vital commodities will be increasingly hard, leading to possible riots over inflation," said Alan Fraser, Middle East analyst with security firm AKE.

Only eight refrigerated cargo vessels carrying fresh produce including bananas called at Iranian ports so far this year, down from 16 in 2011 and 36 in 2010, the IHS Fairplay data showed. Even fishing trawlers unloading their catch have slumped to five from 14 last year and 20 in 2010.

Starved of dollars as the sanctions curb oil exports, Iran bought large amounts of grain earlier this year using other currencies. Nevertheless dry bulk ships, which can carry cereals and commodities such as coal and iron ore, have also made fewer port calls with 100 arrivals so far compared with 352 in 2011 and 406 in 2010.
3. We are beginning to see the first signs of social unrest. But given the brutality with which the authorities are likely to respond, the protests have been largely subdued.
The Telegraph: - Economic hardship has triggered the first street protests in Iran for three years as Tehran struggles to cope with UN, US and EU measures imposed to punish the country for violating resolutions restricting its nuclear programme. Western officials believe that sanctions have put the regime under pressure. "There has been a wider effect on the economy and that affects people and businesses."

In a rare public concession that the regime was struggling with the sanctions, Ayatollah Khamenei decried the measures this week. "These sanctions are barbaric," he said. "This is a war against a nation. But the Iranian nation will defeat them."
4. Foreign firms are exiting Iran to avoid losing business with Western nations.
Reuters: - Iran has faced an exodus of international companies providing marine-related services including certification of its fleet, which is vital for securing insurance and ports access. Earlier this year, sanctions pressure also led to the near collapse of an Iranian-led shipping venture with an Indian firm.
5. Auto production is declining sharply.
NYT: - On Thursday, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported a 42 percent drop in automotive production in the past six months compared with the same period a year earlier, without providing an explanation. But the rial’s severe drop has made imports of auto parts far more expensive. Last February, Peugeot, the French automaker that is a partner of Iran Khodro, Iran’s leading domestic automaker, withdrew from the country because of the strengthened Western sanctions.
6. The EU is about to impose harsher sanctions that will be focused among other things on financial transactions.
WSJ: - European firms will be banned from contracting any ships to transport Iranian oil—even if they are from outside the bloc. There will be a ban on marine equipment sales and European firms will be prohibited from constructing oil tankers for Iran.

But the most effective measures may be in the financial sector. Even for trade that is still allowed, there will be tight thresholds on transactions with Iranian banks that can go ahead without authorization.

The level of the threshold will depend on the sector, with humanitarian trade in food and medicines having a ceiling of €100,000. But for many other items, any tr ansaction over €10,000 with an Iranian bank will need pre-approval, diplomats said.
7. There are stories of increased tensions within the Iranian government, although so far there isn't much evidence to substantiate such claims. A rift within the government could trigger wider, potentially violent internal conflicts (as discussed here).
NBC: - [A Western intelligence] official told NBC News there are some signs of “tension within the Iranian regime” over the issue.

"We’ve picked up some small signs of wavering on the nuclear policy," the official, who did not want to be named, said. "But I don’t want to exaggerate it."
This situation needs to get resolved soon. One can only hope these events do not result in a massive humanitarian crisis, because the current situation has all the makings of one.
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