Iran looms larger on Gulf radar screens

January 19, 2012

Tensions over Iran may be helping to push up oil prices as traders worry about a widespread embargo on the country’s crude oil but markets in neighbouring Gulf energy-rich economies are not benefiting.

One year after the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, investors remain sensitive to political risk in the Middle East.

Debt insurance costs have risen sharply this month for gas exporter Qatar and oil giant Saudi Arabia, just as global worries appear to be easing about the euro zone crisis.

In Qatar, five-year credit default swaps have jumped 30 basis points in the past 10 days to 150 bps, according to Markit — their highest since July 2009. Saudi CDS have had a similar upward trajectory, while CDS in Israel have reached two-month highs.

Traders say some of this move is just a switching of earlier positions, as Gulf markets performed relatively well at the back end of last year, due to their perceived insulation from euro zone worries.

But as Chavan Bhogaita,  head of the markets strategy unit at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, notes:

It has nothing to do with the fundamentals or the credit quality of these sovereigns, but simply about investors getting nervous due to the Iran situation. By buying protection through sovereign CDS, investors are trying to protect themselves against any possible sell-off in the event of an escalation in geopolitical tensions.

 

 

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