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China data: Jan crude imports hit record high at 9.61 mil b/d, up 19% on year

Singapore — China's crude oil imports rose 19.4% on the year to a historic high of40.64 million mt, or 9.61 million b/d, in January, rebounding from December,preliminary data released Thursday by the General Administration of Customsshowed.

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The previous high was 9.21 million b/d in March 2017. Imports in Decemberwere 7.97 million b/d -- the second lowest in 2017.

"The high imports in January were an adjustment to the low in December.

Normally, Chinese stock up feedstocks ahead of Chinese New Year," said aBeijing-based analyst.

Analysts and market sources also attributed January's surge to thesufficient crude oil import quota that independent refiners gained ahead ofthe new year while state-owned refiners' maintained high throughput. China's Ministry of Commerce at the end of December granted a total of114.59 million mt of crude import quotas to 34 refiners in the first batch ofallocations for 2018.

The allocation was not only 76.6% higher than the 64.88 million mt for 21refiners awarded during the same round of 2017, but also earlier than theallocation date of January 17 last year, which allowed independentrefiners to bring more imported crude in the month.

State-owned refiners also raised their average throughput in January to82% from 79% in December. Supporting good demand for imported feedstock,Sinopec's 184,756 b/d Hainan Petrochemical and Sinochem' 240,986 b/d Quanzhourefinery resumes operation in the month after being fully shut in December. No state-owned refineries had new maintenance plans in January. In February, crude imports are expected to remain relatively high inbarrels/day terms as it is not maintenance season, sources said.

"We expected crude imports in this month to be higher than 8.8 millionb/d," said a Singapore-based market observer.

China imported an average of 8.43 million b/d of crude in 2017.

China's oil product exports in January also jumped 35.7% on the year to4.13 million mt, despite falling from a record high of 6.17 million mt inDecember.

The year-on-year increase was supported by sufficient oil product exportquotas for the first round allocation in 2018, which surged 53.8% to 20million mt from the same round in last year.

The quotas would provide more flexibility for Chinese oil companies toplan their product exports.

"The high exports in December was due to a combination of weak domesticdemand and a rush for the oil companies to use up the additional quotas,"the observer said.

China exported a total of 41.36 million mt of gasoil, gasoline and jetfuel in 2017, accounting for 96.2% of the total quotas allocated lastyear.

-- Oceana Zhou, oceana.zhou@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jeremy Lovell, newsdesk@spglobal.com