Iran tensions could drive Brent crude above $80 this summer, strategist says

Key Points
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced his country will end compliance with two conditions of its nuclear deal if Europe did not step in to protect it from U.S. sanctions.
  • President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions placed on Iranian metals, Tehran's largest non-petroleum-related sources of export revenue.
RBC's Croft: Rising geopolitical tensions could push oil prices higher

Tensions in key international waterways could drive up oil prices this year, according to RBC Capital Markets head of global commodity strategy Helima Croft.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday his country would end its compliance with two particular conditions of the nuclear deal if Europe did not step in to protect the country from U.S. sanctions.

Tehran has previously threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world's busiest transit lane for seaborne oil shipments. Approximately 20% of all seaborne crude and condensates passes through the Strait of Hormuz, meaning analysts anticipated short-term upside risk to prices if Iran followed through on the threat.

Croft suggested Hormuz wasn't the only waterway to look out for in pricing oil this year.

"There's another waterway to watch — what happens off the coast of Yemen?," she told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" Thursday.

"You had two Saudi tankers struck last year, there was a period where they re-routed traffic away from the Red Sea. In this type of environment, if something similar occurs, I think that would push oil prices higher."

Croft suggested the geopolitical possibilities of Iran restarting its nuclear program and tensions around key strategic waterways could be key in escalating prices. RBC currently has Brent crude projected to average $75 a barrel for 2019, moving into the low $80s over the summer. Brent Crude is currently trading at $70.13 a barrel while WTI is at $61.60.

Croft also anticipates that the Trump administration's decision to eliminate waivers on Iranian oil sanctions will not succeed in driving exports to zero, but will cause Iran to lose an additional 700,000 to 800,000 barrels.

"They won't be at zero, they'll be at around 500,000, but that's still about 2 million down from a year ago," she said.

"The issue is the dollar — it is access to U.S. capital markets. Any foreign refinery that wants to do business in the U.S., access U.S. markets, asked to choose between Iran and the U.S. will choose the U.S."

Trump on Wednesday ordered now sanctions on Iranian metals, in the U.S. administration's latest attempt to pressure Tehran over its support for weapons proliferation and extremist groups in the Middle East.

The Trump administration has also targeted Iranian oil by effectively ordering countries worldwide to stop buying Tehran's oil or face sanctions of their own.