Trump's sanctions on Iran could push oil prices above $100 per barrel

Key Points
  • If U.S. sanctions end up cutting off Iranian oil supply completely, oil prices will likely hit $100 per barrel, said Fereidun Fesharaki, founder and chairman of consultancy FACTS Global Energy.
  • What's currently holding back oil prices from moving higher is the ongoing trade friction between the U.S. and China, Fesharaki said.
A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Gulf.
Raheb Homavandi | Reuters

U.S. sanctions on Iran's energy industry, when they come into effect in November, could potentially drive oil prices above $100 per barrel, according to an industry expert.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures traded at about $68 per barrel on Tuesday, while Brent crude futures sat at nearly $78.

"If there was not that set of sanctions, I think prices would go to $70 or even a little bit lower. But now the sanctions threat is real and less than two months in front of us, that will transform the market into much higher prices," Fereidun Fesharaki, founder and chairman of consultancy FACTS Global Energy, told CNBC's Akiko Fujita at the CLSA Investors' Forum in Hong Kong.

"The higher price will only be blamed on the Trump administration. There's not much anybody can do if the sanctions come in and are enforced properly," he said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program has resulted in a round of sanctions being re-imposed on the country's financial, automotive, aviation and metals sectors. The U.S. State Department has set Nov. 4 as a deadline for Iranian oil buyers to completely cut their purchases to avoid American sanctions.

Iran is currently one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Cutting off Iranian supplies entirely would push oil prices above $100 per barrel because other major producers could not easily fill the void, said Fesharaki.

Trump said on Twitter in July that energy prices were too high and urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to reduce prices. But OPEC and Russia don't have the spare capacity to ramp up supply much more, Fesharaki said.

Trump on Twitter: The OPEC Monopoly must remember that gas prices are up & they are doing little to help. If anything, they are driving prices higher as the United States defends many of their members for very little $'s. This must be a two way street. REDUCE PRICING NOW!

U.S. shale producers are also running close to their maximum capacity, he said. So, "it's a fallacy to believe that U.S. shale can fill the Iran void. Zero impact," he added.

The timing for oil prices to hit $100 per barrel — a level not seen since 2014 — depends on how quickly the U.S. and China resolve their differences on the trade front, Fesharaki noted.

Ongoing friction between the two largest economies in the world has affected sentiment. If that leads to a slowdown in global economic activity, the oil and gas industry will be dampened, Fesharaki said.

"At the moment, what is holding (oil prices) from going up is the fear, macroeconomic fears," he said. "If the U.S.-China deal is settled, the price of oil only has one way to go: up."