By Kjetil Malkenes Hovland
OSLO--International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol said Monday that he would be surprised if Iranian oil exports returned to pre-crisis levels soon, following the political accord Sunday on Iran's nuclear program.
"We may see currently some downwards pressure on the prices, but we're still not there to comment on a structural impact on the markets, because the agreement is not yet clear about the future of Iranian oil production," Mr. Birol told The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of an Oslo oil conference hosted by Statoil ASA (STO).
Crude-oil futures were lower Monday on expectations that more oil supply could soon be available to the global oil market. Mr. Birol said he would be surprised to see Iranian oil exports reach pre-crisis levels anytime soon.
"It was about 2.2 million barrels per day, and I would be surprised to see that it would come back to those levels soon, because the agreement is not in that direction yet. We have to wait for six months," Mr. Birol said.
The U.S. and five other world powers struck a historic accord with Iran on Sunday, agreeing to ease part of an economic stranglehold in exchange for steps to cap Tehran's nuclear program and ensure the Islamist government doesn't rush to develop atomic weapons.
Iran's oil reserves are among the world's largest, though its exports have dropped off as the U.S. and Europe tightened sanctions. Iran exported 1.5 million barrels a day in 2012, down from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In general, Mr. Birol did not expect oil prices to fall in the longer run, due to high production costs, growing demand and the need of some exporters to maintain a high price to fuel government spending.
"I would be very surprised to see $50 to $60 (a barrel oil price), because of at least three reasons. One is the cost of production of oil in many areas, including shale oil in the United States, (which) is about $80 (a barrel). Second, many Middle East countries need about $90 to balance out their budgets. Third, demand will continue to grow very strongly."
The International Energy Agency has assumed oil prices at around $100 a barrel in the coming years, Mr. Birol said. He didn't rule out that the oil price could fall briefly to between $50 and $60 a barrel, but "not for a sustained period of time."
"If the market expects that there will be more supply, it could affect the price," Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Monday.
Statoil has previously had activity in Iran, but recently exited the country. Mr. Lund said there were both commercial and technical challenges to enhance Iranian exports.
"I think this will be a result of politics on the global arena, which we are talking about now, what framework conditions the industry can get down there, and competence and infrastructure," Mr. Lund said. "There are commercial aspects that will decide whether oil companies invest there or not."
Write to Kjetil Malkenes Hovland at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 25, 2013 06:23 ET (11:23 GMT)Copyright (c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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