Singapore — China's crude oil imports in January 2019 grew 5.1% year on year to 10.07 million b/d, preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs showed Thursday.
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This was the third time China's monthly crude imports breached 10 million b/d, despite dropping 2.7% from 10.35 million b/d in December 2018.
GAC releases data in metric tons, which S&P Global Platts converts to barrels using a 7.33 conversion factor.
The country's crude imports in January totaled 42.59 million mt, down 2.7% from 43.78 million mt in December, the preliminary GAC data showed.
Trading and refining sources said refineries had taken many barrels for delivery by end-2018, but logistical constrains had held up several vessels scheduled for second-half December delivery in long vessel queues and could only discharge their cargoes in January.
China's independent refineries had rushed to use up their crude oil import quota by end-2018 in order to secure quota allocations for 2019, which contributed to the country's year-on-year growth in crude oil imports.
Crude shipments for the group of refineries surged 27.7% year on year to 2.72 million b/d in January, despite easing 8.7% from December, a monthly survey by S&P Global Platts showed.
"Looking ahead, we expect the crude imports will likely ease further in February, since refineries will focus more on drawing down inventories, amid the low demand in domestic market," S&P Global Platts Analytics' senior analyst Wang Zhuwei said.
"We will see a decline in crude imports in February amid high stock and slow logistics during Lunar New Year," a Beijing-based analyst said.
S&P Global Platts' trade flow tracker cFlow showed on Thursday that crude barrels delivered into China in February is likely to fall 13.6% month on month to 7.9 million b/d.
China imports crude via both water and pipelines, while cFlow covers the arrivals from the seaborne market.
Fuel oil imports stood at 1.55 million mt in January, down 4.5% year on year, but was up 2.3% from December.
OIL PRODUCT EXPORTS
China's oil product exports rose 31.4% year on year, but was down 7.5% from December to 5.42 million mt in January, GAC data showed.
As a result, net exports had grown 63.5% year on year to 2.04 million mt, the data showed.
The robust year-on-year growth in product exports in January, was due mainly to a 3% growth in crude throughputs, according to data from Platts Analytics.
S&P Global Platts' survey showed that refineries from Sinopec, PetroChina and CNOOC had cut their oil product exports in January by around 5% from December.
In February, trading sources expect China's oil product exports to probably slow down from January due to the logistical constrain around Lunar New Year holidays. However, refineries are still pressured to export more due to the high stocks in the domestic market, especially for gasoil.
Data from JLC showed that the stocks of gasoil and gasoline in January had hit a record high of 1.08 million mt, and 610,000 mt, respectively, at independent refineries in eastern Shandong province. These were 31.2%, and 43.3% higher, respectively, from December levels.
JLC is a Beijing-based energy information provider.
So far this year, China has allocated a total of 21.5 million mt of export quotas for the three products, up 7.5% from the same round last year.
Platts Analytics has forecast China's oil product exports to continue to grow 15%-17% in 2019 amid expectations of a 495,000 b/d throughput increase.
Total oil demand growth will likely slow down to 486 million b/d in 2019 due to weakening fundamentals and uncertainty over the US-China trade tensions, Platts Analytics' Wang Zhuwei added.
--Edited by Norazlina Juma'at, email@example.com