Oil prices fall as market awaits Trump decision on Iran

TOKYO: Oil prices retreated from three-and-a-half-year highs on Tuesday as investors waited on an announcement by President Donald Trump on whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran.

Should Trump pull the United States out of a multi-nation agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme, Iranian crude exports could be hit, adding to tightness in the oil market, which is coming back into balance after years of glut.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 63 cents, or 0.9 per cent, to $ 70.10 a barrel by 0024 GMT. At one point they fell below $ 70, after settling above that level for the first time since November 2014 on Monday.

Brent crude futures were down 53 cents, or 0.7 per cent, at $ 75.64, having jumped 1.7 per cent to settle at $ 76.17 a barrel in the previous session.

Trump said on Monday a decision on whether to remain in the Iran nuclear deal or to impose sanctions would be announced at 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Tuesday, four days earlier than expected.

Trump is likely to either announce he will not be renewing a waiver on sanctions, leading to a “significant reduction” in Iranian oil sales within six months, or will restate his opposition to the nuclear agreement, Barclays Research analysts said in a report.

“Regardless, his foreign policy continues to ignite tensions in the main oil-exporting center and is, thus, price supportive,” they said.

If Trump restores core US sanctions, under US law he must wait at least 180 days before imposing their furthest-reaching measure, which is to target banks of nations that fail to significantly cut their purchases of Iranian oil.

Analysts at RBC Capital Markets said Iran’s exports could be cut by 200,000 to 300,000 bpd as a result. Iranian officials, however, said that the country’s oil industry would continue to develop even if the United States exits the accord.