Singapore — Crude oil imported for China's independent refineries in December hiked to another historical high of 12.6 million mt (2.98 million b/d), but the refiners still failed to use up their crude import quotas for 2018, a monthly survey by S&P Global Platts showed Monday.
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The heavy inflow in December was 5.6% higher the last recorded high of 11.9 million mt in November amid the refiners' rush to utilize the crude quotas by December 31.
This brought the total imports for the sector in 2018 to 105.77 million mt, up 13.9% year on year. This is estimated to account for 20% to 25% of the country's total crude imports.
However, the refiners are likely to still have 13.2%, or 16.09 million mt, of their quotas unused for 2018, despite efforts to lift their imports since October.
Quota holders believed they have to use up their 2018 quota to ensure higher quota allocation for 2019.
Beijing issued last week, 84.06 million mt crude import quota to independent and some state-owned refineries under the first round allocation for 2019, lower by 26.6% in the some round for 2018.
Despite the decrease, trading sources said the first round crude oil import quota allocation was likely sufficient for the group of refiners to import their feedstocks in H1 2019, given their pace of imports in 2018.
Looking forward in January, refining sources said they had slowed down purchasing and imports this month are likely to ease from the historical level in December.
Platts survey covered 38 crude import quota holders and the survey covers barrels imported for the 38 refineries via the ports mostly in Shandong province and Tianjin, as well as those for the upcoming greenfield independent Dalian Hengli Petrochemical in Liaoning province and Zhejiang Petrochemical in Zhejiang province. The barrels include those imported directly by refiners and trading companies, which will be consumed by the independent sector.
These refiners were awarded a total quota of 121.91 million mt in 2018. This accounts for 86.9% of the country's total crude oil import quota allocation for independent refineries last year.
Only cargoes discharged over the month -- including those that arrived in previous months -- were counted as imports for the month.
TOP FIVE BUYERS
ChemChina, Dongming Petrochemical, Hongrun Petrochemical, Wonfull Petrochemical and Luqing Petrochemical have topped the list in December, bringing a combined 5.14 million mt crudes, or 40.8% of the total imports.
Among those refineries, imports by Wonfull Petrochemical rose by about 400% to around 646,000 mt in December, the highest month on month increase.
Imports by Hongrun Petrochemical almost doubled from the previous month to 1.01 million mt.
Around 35 independent refineries and two trading companies imported around 37 different grades of crude from around 20 countries in December, with two grades imported by the independent sector for the first time.
This compared with 38 buyers buying 42 grades from 26 countries in November.
However, not all those imports will be cracked by the direct importers, as some usually import more than they can digest, judging from their average throughputs, according to market sources.
FEEDSTOCK STOCKS UP 24% ON MONTH
Following the heavy imports, feedstock inventories at major ports of Shandong increased by 24% month on month to a six-month high of 5.24 million mt as of December 27. It was slightly lower from a record high of 5.42 million mt registered in June, data from local information provider JLC showed.
Major ports in Shandong refer to Qingdao, Dongjiakou, Longkou, Laizhou, Rizhao, Dongying and Yantai.
Crude imports via Qingdao and Dongjiakou ports totaled 5.85 million mt, up 15.1% on month. The volume accounted for 46.4% of the total imports for the sector.
Imports via Rizhao port came in the second at around 1.94 million mt, but Yantai port received fewer cargoes from November, at 1.48 million mt, or down 15.9% on month.
--Edited by Liz Thang, email@example.com