Singapore — China's crude oil imports rose 9.5% last year to an average 10.16 million b/d, preliminary data released Tuesday by the General Administration of Customs showed.
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Looking forward, S&P Global Platts Analytics said recently it expected growth of 530,000 b/d in 2020. Imports rose 10.1% in 2018.
Platts Analytics attributed the growth this year to the crude oil import quotas to qualified refiners as the independent refining complexes Hengli Petrochemical (Dalian) and Zhejiang Petroleum & Chemical (ZPC) have fully started up their facilities.
GAC releases data in metric tons, which S&P Global Platts converts to barrels using a conversion factor of 7.33.
The country's crude imports in December totaled 45.48 million mt, 0.6% lower than November, the data showed.
On a barrels-per-day basis, China's crude imports hit a high in November of 11.18 million b/d.
Dec fuel oil imports at six-year high
Fuel oil imports in December soared 92% month on month to a six-year high at 2.03 million mt ahead of IMO 2020 -- the lower sulfur cap on marine fuel globally from January 1. The volume also represented 34.5% year-on-year increase.
Analysts and market sources attributed the surge to heavy inflows of both low sulfur fuel oil and high sulfur fuel oil with demand from both bunkering and refining sectors.
"China took more VLSFO for bonded bunkering ahead of IMO 2020. Moreover, HSFO became cheaper due to shrinking demand from bunkering sector, leading some teapot refiners return to the market for the competitive feedstock," a fuel oil trader said.
S&P Global Platts data showed the average price for FOB Singapore 0.5% marine fuel was $569.77/mt in December, up $73.98/mt from November.
China's average fuel oil import price was Yuan 3,457.94/mt in December, up Yuan 197.07/mt ($28.6/mt) from November, the GAC data showed.
Moreover, Zhongjin Petrochemical also resumed fuel oil imports as feedstock in December as its sister company ZPC fully started commercial operation and cut fuel oil supplies to it. Zhongjin consumes about 300,000 mt of fuel oil per month, according to a company source.
Despite the jump, China's total fuel oil imports over January-December fell 10.9% year on year to 14.79 million.
Oil product exports up 14%
Oil product exports rose 14.1% to 66.85 million mt in 2019 as outflow in December retreated 7.1% to 6.79 million mt from historical high of 7.31 million mt in November, according to GAC data.
In 2018, China's oil product exports rose 12.3% year on year to 58.6 million mt.
Sinopec's Economics & Development Research Institute expects a narrower year-on-year increase at 7% for China's oil product exports in 2020 amid a modest year-on-year throughput increase of 3.1% and an even lower oil product output increase of 1.6% as Chinese refineries lift petrochemical product yield.
China's total oil product export quota volume for the first 2020 round is up 30% from the same batch for 2019 at 28 million mt. The volume is also half of the total export quota volume of 56 million mt allocated in 2019.
Healthy oil product exports and shrinking inflows pushed the country's net oil product exports 44.5% higher to 36.29 million mt in 2019, GAC data showed.
China's preliminary import, export data (million mt):
Source: China's General Administration of Customs