Venezuela. Saudi Arabia. Iran. Iraq. Kuwait. The UAE. Russia. Finally Libya. A who's who of armed conflict, political instability and economic turmoil. They are all either currently embroiled in existential economic crises, recovering from a major war or have the potential to be pulled back into one. This list isn't one of the world's most volatile places. The list is the world's richest countries in terms of proven oil reserves in that order. The people of these countries, unfortunately, are as blessed as they are cursed. As long as oil is valuable, their countries will be volatile. As long as cars run on gas, their bureaucracies will run on corruption and greed. Anyone who wants to make money will spend millions to install leaders who will help them make billions.
The current uprising in Iran is not a simple "the people don't like how the government is run" type protest. Iran is the world's third richest in terms of proven oil reserves; however, the country is largely poor. The same can be said for everyone else on the list except for perhaps the UAE and Kuwait. The crumbs that trickle down to average citizens in the aforementioned countries allow them to live above poverty. Foreign influence in governments in Iran is as old as time. The installation of the previous regime in Iran, the Shah, and the subsequent installation of the current regime were not organic. Special interest groups supported the Shah as they supported the Ayatollah.
U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced his support for the protesters and has threatened to reinstate sanctions against Iran, lifted after the nuclear deal. Such a unilateral move would most likely be opposed by European counterparts. If only the U.S. applies sanctions, the Iranians will be able to continue to sell their oil in return for goods and services from the Europeans. So how will these protests play out?
The government of President Hasan Rouhani has been wise to call for calm and attempt to start a dialogue with the protesters. Rouhani's Minister of Labor is quoted as saying: "We are all responsible when it comes to recent events. The government and authorities will listen to people's demands and will make every effort to materialize them." A great response by the government. Should hardliners in the military allow the protesters to calmly wind down their vocalization of anger and begin discussing the ills of the people, especially the youth, these protests will have been a success for all sides. The people voiced their opinion, and their government listened. Should the protests and response to the protests turn violent, the Rouhani government itself will be in jeopardy, and the current theocratic regime formed post-Shah will itself be in jeopardy.
Whatever is actually going on, on the ground in Iran, those that currently benefit from trade with Iran will have to come up with contingency plans should the protests continue. This means no long-term investments in Iran, which means continued unemployment. Ironically such protests and supply constraints may push up oil prices and lead to higher oil revenue which in turn may allow Iran to provide fiscal spending to answer the woes of the protesters. Crude oil is already trading at highs of over $67 a barrel for Brent and $61 a barrel for WTI on low U.S. stockpiles and the turmoil in Iran.
My guess is that Iran is too important an ally to Russia, and its near complete control of Iraq would be put in jeopardy should the regime be challenged. For these reasons, the government would be supported by foreign powers in maintaining the status quo, and the protesters may be appeased in the interim, but no real change to the regime will take place.
The Turkish lira has continued to enjoy a rally trading at TL 3.76 to the greenback stronger by nearly a quarter lira as dollar indices are down and the Turkish political environment improves. The Turkey-U.S. visa row has come to an end with both countries resuming visa issuances. Should this warming of relations continue, look for the benchmark BIST-100 stock index to continue to break through highs and the Turkish lira to continue to appreciate. Turkish CDSs traded at 1.54 percent on Monday, a 4.5 year low. This means investors view Turkey as far less risky, and insuring Turkey against economic uncertainty is the cheapest it has been since 2013.
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