The barter trade works, but Iran needs cash too. As it is being cut off from the global financial system, the next best thing is gold. So we should not be surprised that in late February the Iranian central bank said it would accept that metal as payment for oil. Last year, China imported $21.7 billion in Iranian oil and exported $14.8 billion in goods and services. As the NDAA goes into effect, look for Beijing to ship gold to Iran to make up the difference.
Gold bugs, however, shouldn’t get too happy about Iran’s plight. There are five principal factors that will depress anticipated demand for gold used to buy Iranian oil. First, other countries will also be bartering agricultural and manufactured goods. Russia and Pakistan, for instance, will undoubtedly continue wheat-for-petroleum arrangements.
Second, Tehran, out of apparent desperation, in February said it would also accept local currencies, thereby avoiding the U.S. financial system. As a result, the Indians announced in January that they would not request a waiver from the Obama administration, and they began opening rupee accounts to pay for as much as 45% of their oil purchases with their currency. In 2011, India exported only $2.7 billion to Iran while buying $9.5 billion in oil. Similarly, the Chinese, smelling blood in the water, will surely press the Iranians to accept the non-convertible renminbi.
Third, the result of sanctions is that Iran’s oil exports could be cut by as much as 700,000 barrels a day. China, for instance, is increasing its oil purchases from Saudi Arabia, its largest foreign supplier. The Chinese are also buying more from the Persian Gulf emirates as well as Vietnam, Russia, and Africa. Of course, every drop of other crude decreases China’s demand for Iran’s.
Fourth, China and other countries are taking advantage of Iran’s plight by negotiating large price reductions.
Fifth, if the Iranians are willing to accept wheat and non-tradable currencies in payment for oil, there is nothing to say they won’t start agreeing to silver too.
But nothing shines like gold. And there is one other reason to be bullish on the yellow metal. “This isn’t the end of the road,” noted an unnamed senior administration official to the Wall Street Journal days after the enactment of the NDAA. “There are many other sanctions we can put in place and that our multilateral partners around the world can put in place and will be.” As Washington tightens financial measures against Iran, the mullahs will have less access to hard currency and therefore more need for gold.
Unless, of course, they want to accumulate more Chinese washing machines.