Counting the Cost

How will Trump’s Iran oil gamble affect the global economy?

We look at US sanctions on Iran and whether there is enough oil from the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE to fill the void.

US President Donald Trump‘s attempts to make Iran abandon its nuclear ambitions and change its foreign policy is fraught with danger. After ripping up a nuclear agreement with Tehran, Trump is forcing China, India and Turkey to end imports of crude from the Islamic Republic.

Trump is gambling that there is enough oil from the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to fill the void. But he is betting the world’s economy that events in the “shaky six” – nations with troubled political climates such as Algeria, Angola, Libya, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela – do not spiral out of control.

So what will the impact be on the global economy?

If Iran carries out its threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, or if oil stops flowing from other hotspots, like Libya and Venezuela, there will be a number of consequences: Oil could hit $100 a barrel or more; about 0.6 percent could be wiped off global growth this year; and inflation could rise by 0.7 percentage points.

Can the US substitute Iranian oil - really no, because the crude quality matters. Iranian crude oil is heavy. US crude oil is light.

by Sara Vakhshouri, founder and president of SVB Energy International

Nations facing inflationary pressures, that is rising prices, will not be happy. And the blowback could hit the already stretched American consumer, which will hurt growth. Gas prices have already risen seven percent to $2.89 in the last month.

Economic sanctions are increasingly being used to promote the full range of US foreign policy objectives. While the US cut off ties after the 1979 revolution, it has been estimated it has forfeited $175bn in export revenue as a consequence of not doing business with Iran between 1995 and 2012. That equates to 66,436 job opportunities lost a year.

So sanctions also hurt the nations imposing them.

“Can the US substitute Iranian oil – really no, because the crude quality matters. Iranian crude oil is heavy. US crude oil is light,” according to Sara Vakhshouri, founder and president of SVB Energy International. “The best match for Iranian crude oil is Saudi crude oil and the other closest is from the UAE.”

Before Saudi Arabia can increase its oil production, “they’re waiting to see how much Iranian oil supply is going to be excluded from the market, how much Iran can smuggle or sell informally and if the US government would come up with some waivers formally or informally. So they will wait … and then act accordingly to manage the market and substitute Iranian oil.

“If we want Saudi Arabia to cover for Iranian oil with its spare capacity, then if there’s any other event, the market would not have enough spare capacity to cover for that in an event of any major incident. And that would have significant impact on the [oil] prices,” says Vakhshouri.

China’s Huawei and the FBI sting

Akhan Semiconductor CEO Adam Khan is a young inventor who developed technology to make the screens on mobile phones stronger and more scratch-resistant. He sent his product to Chinese tech giant Huawei, but the diamond glass returned broken with fragments missing.

China’s Huawei and the FBI sting

Suspecting Huawei, which ordered the sample in 2017, of intellectual property theft, Khan reported it to the FBI, reports John Hendron from Gurnee, Illinois, who sat down with Adam Khan.

Explaining his unbreakable glass technology, Khan says, “Our mirage diamond glass technology is actually a lab-grown nano-crystalline diamond. It has all of the material properties that you’d find in bulk diamonds. Its exceptional hardness, its exceedingly high thermo-conductivity, it’s an exceptionally robust material. It’s chemically inert, biologically inert, as well as having the optics that you’d require from a display glass. So we’ve married a very thick layer of nano-diamond with display glass, creating the world’s first display technology for cell phones, smart phones and consumer-facing technologies.”

According to Khan, “Huawei reached out to us, seeing some of these breakthrough announcements … they were very interested in the technology for their flagship smartphone as well as for their smartwatch. And we began the engagement with them in 2016. Around 2017, we started shipping samples for their evaluation, but the samples came back damaged and in the last instance, we actually saw that they retained a portion of the sample, which prompted the events that followed.”

The FBI was contacted when a good portion of the returned samples were missing some pieces. “This is not something that can be done in shipping – this is exceptionally hard material and it was packed rather airtight … so we knew right away that there was an issue,” says Khan.

Analysis revealed “that the sample was intentionally cleaved using a high intensity laser”. And that’s when the FBI asked Khan’s company to spy for the US government.

“I look at it more so that we were looking to protect our technology and the FBI recognising the breakthrough of the technology platform – not necessarily Akhan specifically, but the importance of diamond technology  – [and it] readily stepped up to help us protect and reclaim this technology,” says Khan.