The world’s biggest independent oil traders are deeply divided over the crude price outlook as the start date of sanctions on Iran’s energy exports draws near, setting up a major battleground for the industry in 2019. Ian Taylor of Vitol, chairman of the world’s largest independent energy trader, told the Oil & Money conference on Wednesday he expected prices to eventually fall towards $65 a barrel, arguing he saw no shortage of crude in the market and the early signs of weaker demand.

In the opposite corner is Jeremy Weir of Trafigura, Vitol’s llongtimerival, who said at the same London event he expects to see “three figure” prices before the recent rally is tempered, which has already seen Brent crude gain 50 per cent in the past 12 months to near $85 a barrel. “[Higher prices] are eventually going to have an effect,” Mr Taylor said. “We have already lowered our demand growth forecast for this year and 2019.” Mr Weir at Trafigura said that view underestimated the strength of economic growth and the uncertainty created by the US targeting Iran’s oil exports. “I’m pretty bullish. In the short term we’ve already got the stars aligned here.

Consumption is still increasing . . . Iran is there, so it’s looking quite positive into year end before even talking about the speculative influence which tends to make things overshoot,” Mr Weir said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see three figures on oil.” Their comments suggest even the biggest traders are grappling with almost unprecedented uncertainty created, in part, by the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran. The spread between their price expectations is close to $40 a barrel. That could contribute to volatile trading conditions when the US sanctions on Iran’s oil industry start in November. Glencore and Gunvor, two other large independent traders, said they expect slightly stronger and weaker prices respectively at the same event.

Alex Beard, head of energy at Glencore, said he expected prices to stay strong due to the Iranian sanctions, which have threatened to remove as much as 2m barrels a day — or 2 per cent of world supplies from the market. He said he believed the end goal of the Trump administration was “regime change” in Tehran. The chief executive of Gunvor, Torbjörn Törnqvist, said he saw oil slipping to $70-$75 a barrel as he believed fears about Saudi Arabia’s ability to make up the shortfall from Iran are overstated.