Apr 15, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Iran attack aftermath: Oil markets wait and see, for now

Illustration of an oil rig under a spotlight

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Oil prices barely moved in the first trading since Iran launched drone and missile strikes against Israel over the weekend, but major geopolitical peril remains.

Why it matters: Market moves are an exercise in hive-mind risk analysis.

  • Traders apparently don't expect immediate escalation after the largely deflected attack, which followed Israel's April 1 airstrike in Syria that killed a top Iranian general.
  • And as Rystad Energy notes, oil prices last week were already priced in expectations of an Iranian move.

What they're saying: "The muted price response reflects the fact that the supply of oil has been and remains unaffected," oil historian and analyst Ellen Wald tells Axios via email when trading began in Asia Sunday.

  • She notes that Israel isn't an oil producer, and she doesn't envision Iran closing the Straits of Hormuz to oil shipping because that would hurt their exports.
  • And "Israel doesn't have the capability to take out Iran's oil infrastructure without assistance," said Wald.

State of play: Brent crude is floating in the mid-$89 per barrel range today, down less than 1% from where it ended last week.

The big picture: Analysts see powerful nations pressuring Israel and Iran to prevent further escalation.

  • Axios' Barak Ravid reports the U.S. has told Israel it won't back a counterstrike.
  • Eurasia Group analysts see China, which is heavily reliant on imports from the region, "actively" pressing Iran for restraint.
  • The firm also notes Gulf Cooperation Council countries are looking to contain things to avoid risks to production and critical infrastructure.

Yes, but: Prices remain elevated, and analysts see the geopolitical risk as a major reason.

What we're watching: What happens if things do escalate again, and send prices skyrocketing — a political problem for President Biden.

  • He's been willing to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, authorizing the largest sale ever in 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine.
  • However, that 180 million barrel release along with sales Congress mandated has left the stockpile far smaller, with only limited re-purchases since then.
  • The current inventory is 362 million barrels, far below the peak of 727 million over a decade ago, per Energy Department data.

The bottom line: It's still a very dangerous situation.

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