Lending Dries Up in Iran

By Jason Simpkins
Associate Editor

Various industries in Iran are beginning to feel the pinch as bankers around the world have cut back lending to satisfy the U.S. government's demands.

U.S. efforts to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program stalled in the United Nations, thwarted by Russia and China. But U.S. Treasury officials Stuart Levey and Robert Kimmitt have spearheaded a campaign to curb lending to a country the United States perceives as a global threat.

Banks such as UBS AG (UBS), Deutsche Bank AG (DB), and HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC) have taken heed, reducing lending to Iran, and in some cases, cutting it off all together.

"We do absolutely no business in Iran," Serge Steiner, a spokesman for UBS, Europe's biggest bank by market value, told Bloomberg News.

Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest financial institution, said in July that it was retreating from Iran as well.

"We have sent a letter to private clients in Iran who have an account with Deutsche Bank in Germany, and told them that we have to terminate our business relationship with them," Deutsche Bank spokesman Ronald Weichert said last year.

Iran is indeed an oil rich nation. It ships about four million barrels of crude a day and accounts for 5% of global supply. But an unnamed German banking analyst told Forbes that Deutsche Bank's interest in the Iranian oil business was inconsequential.

"I think leaving Iran improves the business opportunities [for Deutsche Bank]," he said. "Iran is a small country. It's not worth it to deal with Iran and then lose business in the U.S."

Six months ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut Iran's country-risk rating for export credits to the second worst level. It now shares a category with Albania, Bangladesh and Mozambique.

The number of banks doing business with Iran has dropped substantially in the past two years. According to Bankers' Almanac, the number of institutions used by Bank Saderat Iran, one of the country's largest banks, have fallen from 29 in 2006 to 8.

The result of such precautionary measures has been detrimental to Iranian business, which has been deprived of funds necessary to acquire equipment and services. European Union data agency Eurostat reported that machinery and transportation equipment exports to Iran dropped 20% in the first nine months of 2007 from the previous year.

Financial institutions are in the midst of a global credit crunch and most are shying away from riskier investments. That doesn't bode well for Iran, which lacks the technology and equipment to develop its natural resources on its own. Without foreign investment, Iran is an island.

"Banks tend to be very, very conservative creatures," Peter Djinis a former member of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network told Bloomberg. Until they hear directly from the U.S. government that Iran can be trusted, "there will not be any wavering." 

News and Related Story Links:

  • Forbes:
    Deutsche Bank Ditches Iran