BMI View: T he historic deal agreed between Iran and the P5+1 powers in Vienna on July 14 - assuming it passes through parliaments - will see growth return to the Iranian economy and its shipping sector over the coming years. This recovery will not be immediate, and there remain significant challenges to growth in the near term. The general trend is that Brent crude will average considerably less than in recent years - we forecast an average of USD59 per barrel in 2015 - meaning that the economic boost from easing sanctions will be limited. Iranian consumers will continue to be under pressure, and a massive ramp up in containerised goods imports is unlikely. However, as real GDP growth in the country picks up, we expect pent-up demand from the growing middle class in the Middle East's largest population to drive growth in imports of containerised consumer goods.
That said, the removal of port operator Tidewater from sanctions in late 2014 will provide a fundamental boost to the facility as any goods which have been being shipped overland as a result of the embargo will steadily begin to return to transferring through the port.
Headline Industry Data
2015 port of Bandar Abbas throughput forecast to grow by 6.5%, and average growth of 7.0% to 2019.
2019 port of Bandar Abbas throughput expected to reach 2.2mn twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) - although this is still insufficient to match 2011 volumes.
2015 total real trade is forecast to contract by 0.4%.
Key Industry Trends
Commercial Trade Revival At Ports As Sanctions Are Relaxed: Commercial trade is showing signs of revival in Iranian ports, as international shipping lines increase port calls on the back of a relaxation of Western sanctions, according to reports in the Iranian media. The US and the EU imposed a trade ban and asset freeze on Iran's largest ports operator - the Tidewater Middle East Maritime Company in 2012, affecting legal trade such as transport of medical supplies. However, the sanctions were annulled in January after Iran successfully appealed the case before the EU General Court. According to news reports, seven major shipping lines have called at the country's port of Bandar Abbas in the past year, with more container ships expected to dock at the port soon.
EU Sanctions Re-imposed: In February and March 2015, sanctions against I slamic R epublic of I ran S hipping L ines - and 40 other Iranian shipping firms including NITC - were re-imposed by the EU. These sanctions had been removed following a series of court victories by Iranian firms. The shipping firms' lawyer, Maryam Taher, criticised the move for being politically motivated, with no basis on proper evidence. 'The whole purpose of the EU sanctions is to leverage pressure on the Iranian government to come to an agreement in relation to nuclear proliferation,' she said. The EU High Court had ruled in January 2015 that sanctions against IRISL were not justified and that there was no evidence that the bodies were abetting the Iranian government's alleged nuclear weapons development programme.
Despite this, following the newly signed agreement in Vienna, we expect that sanctions against Iran's shipping companies will be removed for good within the next 18 months, which will provide a significant boost for their operations.
Key Risks To Outlook
There are serious risks to all our forecasts for Iranian shipping, just as there are to our macroeconomic outlook for the country. Our forecasts are at present predicated on the expectation that the Vienna agreement presages a new period of cooperation with the international community, and a re-admittance into financial markets and a removal of sanctions. This would entail a recovery in the Iranian economy, and a massive pick-up in volumes handled at the country's ports, in addition to freedom to operate for Iranian shipping companies. However, any renewed breakdown in the agreement would see sanctions re-imposed and our forecasts re-evaluated.