The missing 368,628 tonnes oil South Africa imported from Iran

There were some raised eyebrows recently when customs figures revealed that South Africa was still importing oil (417,000 during February) from Iran in spite of sanctions against that country.

Sasol took responsibility for some 12,000 barrels per day during January. Engen South Africa, which is owned by Petronas Malaysia, did not.

Reuters reported that Engen South Africa claimed that the company had halted oil imports from Iran. When exactly this happened, is unclear. They did not want to comment. Petronas indicated that their Engen unit stopped imports in March of last year. Engen, while not contradicting the statement, also did not confirm it. The messages are mixed.

I have to say this: the numbers don’t tally up. Either somebody is telling half-truths or somebody (and I suspect it could be more than a single somebody) is not owning up! Let’s calculate:

Of the 417,000 tonnes of oil imported from Iran, how much

South Africa Iran - Oil still important.

Other than Sasol, nobody is owning up for the large amount of oil imported by South Africa from Iran.

did Sasol buy?

Sasol said they imported only 12,000 barrels per day, right? A barrel weighs 139kg, or 0.139 tonnes. February had 29 days and I assume that their ‘per day’ includes weekends, high days and holidays. So the sum would be:

Number of barrels x tonnes x days = total monthly import.

12,000 x 0.139 x 29 = 48,372 tonnes.

So WHO imported the remaining 368,628 tonnes?

That is a whole lot of oil, and it sure as heck got delivered somewhere!

  • Petronas said it was not them. Engen does not say anything. I am not sure I believe them. My suspicion is that they are looking at stopping imports, but haven’t made a final decision .
  • Sasol could be importing more than they claim but, even if they did, it would not be anywhere near the missing 368,628 tonnes!
  • Chevron I believe is innocent. They are US-owned and won’t violate US sanctions. The repercussions would be too severe.
  • There seems to be confirmation that BP is not the culprit either.
  • Shell..well now, Shell is a bit of a dark horse. They have not breathed a word. In fact, they refuse to comment. No answer is an answer too.

A lack of political will

I believe there is a lack of political will to support the US and EU sanctions against Iran. South Africa is notoriously bad at taking a stand. They usually end up dancing around issues. Think of Zimbabwe, Lybia etc. There really is no political pressure from our government on Engen, Shell, Sasol and whoeverelse. Things might change during May this year when Energy Minister Dipuo Peters is set to finally respond to the US in terms of implementing sanctions against Iran. There is a good chance she won’t. As I explained in my previous blog , South Africa and Iran are bedfellows in at least two joint ventures and have been supplying arms to Teheran in spite of the embargo on weapons – an embargo South Africa had agreed to.

In the mean time, this blogger is waiting for the March customs figures to be released. Hopefully the amount of oil imported by South Africa from Iran, will be a round zero.

Also read:

UPDATE 1-Petronas S.Africa unit Engen ends Iran crude imports | Reuters.


The South African Property Situation Right Now

Absa just released their Mortgage Advances ( – and Housing Review Q1 08 Reports ( When I read it this morning, I had a few thoughts on the topic of property.Everybody seems to be complaining bitterly: Homeowners about the expected 0.1% year on year real price growth on average housing in 2008 and the banks about the prevailing mortgage advance growth of 23.1%. But if you take a journey back in time, you cannot help but wonder whether this is not a matter of complaining with a white bread tucked away under the arm.

The truth of the matter is that house pricing, after growing at less than 0% – yep, negative growth – towards the end of 1999, went through an unprecedented growth period until last year with the average house increasing in real value terms by between 15% and 17% year on year. A further truth is that the banks have forgotten that once upon a time, in 2000, they showed a 4% year on year growth in mortgage advances. Now, a bad case scenario projection for 2008 is just short of an average of 16% year on year, and that is the NCA, the 9.4% CPIX inflation and the volatile Rand in spite.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves from time to time that playing the property game is not about turning a quick buck. The recent boom created this very expectation because many property dabblers made a decent stash within a very short period of time. This is the exception, not the rule. Property is and will always be a really good medium to long term investment – for those that have the patience to wait. For those that don’t consider patience as one of their virtues, the stock market is a higher risk, but quicker return option.

One of the great things about the property game is that even when the market is depressed, you will have the opportunity to make worthy investments. You just have to select a different battle field and employ a different strategy. For example, right now you would do well with a couple of buy to let properties in the right areas and at the right price. You could also engage with the Zimbabwe situation and, if the MPC really manages to oust the despotic Mugabe regime, you may even want to stake a claim to a piece of land there as a potentially lucrative medium term investment.

For those that prefer the security of a South African venture, the outlook is not as bleak as the prophets of doom make it out to be: The Rand has already started firming up, which should support our wobbly inflation rate. Oil is back down to below $100. If it can remain there, food inflation should improve, which should also contribute to taking some of the wobble out of our CPIX. If this happens, the interest rates will have to come down. I am not promising a drastic reduction, but who will say no to paying 0.5% to 1% less on their bond? I, for one, will be only too happy.

Finally, there is a marketplace in the desert called the Soccer World Cup 2010. I for one am in two minds whether this place is a mirage or an oasis. Those in the know seem to believe it is the real McCoy, and are buying and furnishing multiple properties in the CBDs.

Whether this is wisdom or folly, only time will tell. What really matters is getting a bit more upbeat about certain things: the wheel turns and, after a lengthy 3-and-a-half-year downturn, perhaps the property wheel is about to start its upturn again.