In mid January, we warned that you might wish to "circle the date March 20, 2006" on your calendars in red. (This past week, June Crude Oil futures hit all-time highs!) That is when Iran, the world's fourth largest exporter of crude oil, planned to reportedly launch their new oil exchange, competing with both London's IPE and New York's NYMEX, both of which are owned by US corporations. They also planned to be invoicing oil trades in euros not dollars. Petrol for euros is an echo of the 1970s petrodollars, but this time it would be petro-euros. Depending on the trading volume for Iran's proposed oil exchange, this oil exchange might begin to spell serious trouble for the US US financial system. Iran's oil and natural gas assets are estimated to be worth about $ 3 trillion.
Some of the pretty 'out there' reports have began circulating, through 2005, about how it's the "end of the world as we know it." A few of the more serious reports suggested the current Iranian uranium enrichment request may be a prelude to an invasion of Iran, whether by Israel or the US Top US politicians are not ruling out a military strike against Iran. Both Iran's Economy Minister, Davoud Danesh-Jafari, and Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have both taunted the US and others about uranium enrichment.
With someone as irascible and impetuous at Iran's helm, as is the current president,, quite any of his wild notions could quickly become a shocking reality. For example, a few months ago, the Iranian president reported to the Jewish holocaust during WW II as a myth, setting off a global condemnation. Shortly thereafter, Iran announced it was convening a scientific conference to evaluate any evidence supporting the mythical holocaust. Unfortunately, all of this Iranian drama may just be Act One with two or three more to follow. What happen if Iran's brash actions move the world's reserve currency from dollars to euros?
The road from dollar to euro may just be another transitory move. As the gold standard fell to the oil standard, the US dollar began replacing gold in the 1970s as the "world's reserve currency." For the past thirty years, it's been earth's mostought-after currency, as any seasoned tourist knows. And as travelers have come to realize, the dollar's dominance has weakened over the past few years. Today, the euro is more desirable in many countries where the dollar was once King. As late as a few years ago, Canadians joked about their one-dollar Loonie as the Canadian peso. Not true today. More than a few experts believe the C $ will someday soon trade on par with the USD. Iran's launch of their Oil Bourse may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. What they may now lack, an oil marker found on New York's Mercantile Exchange and London's International Petroleum Exchange (IPE), such as West Texas Intermediate, Norway Brent, or UAE Dubai. William Clark, author of Petrodollar Warfare (New Society Publishers, 2005), argued Iran's new oil exchange would "usher in a fourth crude oil marker."
If invoicing oil in euros gains momentum, what's to stop other commodities, such as gold or natural gas, from being priced in euros? If the dollar continues its long-term decline, plunging below its late 2004 nadir, then how little confidence will resource-rich countries have in the fiat dollar? At least one serious expert believes it might make perfectly good sense to price a number of these commodities in Canadian or Australian dollars instead of US dollars.
We talked to Wyoming legislator, former International Atomic Energy Agency consultant and president of Strathmore Minerals (TSX: STM; Other OTC: STHJF) David Miller believes, "A switch out of US dollars would just accelerate the current rise in the price of uranium in terms of US dollars for American utilities, the world's largest consumers of uranium. " What if Cameco (NYSE: CCJ) decided to price uranium in Canadian dollars? "Cameco's long-term contracts are coming up for renewals," explained Miller. "It might make economic sense for Cameco to sell uranium in Canadian dollars, and it's something they should consider. Miller added, "A lower US dollar would also make US-produced uranium more attractively priced." A uranium price, which has soared by more than 500 percent, has yet to seriously shake up the mindset of US utilities, even in the context of a rapidly growing uranium supply deficit.
Another worry might now be registering on their radar screens: uranium imports from three of the world largest uranium producers may not be available later this decade. Russia's hints at expanding their nuclear industry by about 300 percent, as reported by the Moscow Times in an article entitled "Putin Revives Nuclear Alliance" on January 13th, could impact the current supply of uranium to US utilities from Kazakhstan. According to the US Energy Information Administration, Kazakhstan supplied more than 4 million pounds of uranium to US utilities in 2004, nearly 10 percent of all foreign uranium purchased.
If Russia's nuclear alliance materializes with Kazakhstan and also includes Uzbekistan, US utilities may lose access to about 8 million pounds of uranium annually. Domestically, the US uranium mining industry only supplied 10.2 million pounds to owners of US civilian nuclear power reactors in 2003. Neither Kyrgyzstan nor the Ukraine reported their uranium supply statistics for 2004, but they would reportedly be part of Russian's new alliance. A year ago, Russian announced a deal to supply Iran with enriched uranium at the $ 800-million Bushehr nuclear facility being constructed in that country. Russia hopes to construct, over time, up to twenty more nuclear power plants in Iran. Uranium consumption alone by Iran to power those nuclear reactors would exhaust Russia's current mining production of about 30 million pounds annually. One might wonder if that uranium transaction will be based in euros instead of dollars.
How likely would it be that other commodities might be priced in a currency, other than the US dollar? Austria-based financial analyst Toni Straka, who publishes "The Prudent Investor," wondered in his article, entitled "Killing the dollar in Iran," (August 26, 2005; Asia Times) "Could the proposed Iranian oil bourse (IOB) become the catalyst for a significant blow to the influential position the US dollar enjoys? " Straka proposed in that same article, "A decline of the dollar's position in oil trading might also open the floodgates in other commodity markets where the dollar is the medium of exchange but where the US has only a minimum market share."
A cursory study of diverse articles, focused around the IOB, strongly suggest that sometime after March 20th, if Iran does launch their Oil Bourse, the dollar might find itself sinking below its March 2005 low on a course taking it beneath a December 2004 bottom. China's relationship with Iran may also be alarming for the US dollar in the context of a euro invoicing for oil. In 2004, China became Iran's top oil customer with the signing of a $ 100 billion oil pipeline deal. News reports suggest there may be two or more deals to have Iran export to China over 350 million tons of liquefied natural gas and 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day, over a 25-year period. Invoiced in euros, instead of US dollars, purchases of that magnitude could create more than a bit of geopolitical economic friction.
In January, China indicated the country may diversify its foreign exchange reserves, possibly in a controlled diversification process, to prevent a collapse of the US dollar. Director-General of the research bureau for the People's Bank of China, Tang Xu, recently informed it was "illegally that China would reduce its current dollar assets to increase the proportion of other assets." At the same time, he warned no one "is willing to put all of their eggs in one basket." How's that sound for a mixed message? According to the Xinhua news agency, China now holds $ 818.9 billion in foreign exchange reserves. London's Financial Times estimated, "China is now on course to accumulate more than $ 1,000bn (US $ 1 trillion) in foreign exchange by the end of this year – a total that would surpass Japan, which had $ 847bn in reserves at the end of December . "
In all likelihood, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would also reduce their US dollar holdings to follow China's lead should they aggressively begin selling. Questions worried many financial analysts revolve around the condition of the US Dollar. M-3 is in overdrive. Over the past 6 weeks, over $ 177.8 billion has been added into the US economy. In raw and non-seasonally adjusted numbers, that number is jumped by more than $ 293 billion, during the past three months. By using the past quarter as a benchmark, M3 is on a pace to add $ 1.2 trillion of stimulation flooding into the economy in a twelve-month period.
Bearish currency speculators argument the current petrodollar system unfairly benefits the US and often describe how the US continues to print greenbacks without exporting commodities or manufactured goods, by paying for them with issuance of more dollars and Treasuries. As the argument goes, the US controls the world oil market through the dollar. An exodus from dollars, possibly even its loss as the world's reserve currency, would certainly provide a turbulent market scenario for oil speculators. That would very likely spill over into other commodity markets. As David Miller has proposed, it could very well accelerate the price rise of spot uranium. Since originally writing this article, spot uranium prices have soared above $ 40 / pound and show no end to their current rocket ride.
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