Singapore — China's crude imports gained 5.8% on the year to 11.13 million b/d in January-February 2021, rebounding from the 27-month low of 9.1 million b/d recorded in December, General Administration of Customs data released March 7 showed.
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On a metric tons basis, crude imports in the first two months rose 4.1% on the year to 89.57 million mt. The GAC releases data in metric tons, which S&P Global Platts converts to barrels using a 7.33 conversion factor.
The increase was attributed to the wave of arrivals for the independent sector which took advantage of the fresh crude import quotas allocated for 2021.
Platts data showed that the sector's crude imports surged 32.6% on the year to an average 4.12 million b/d in January-February, jumping 42.1% from an eight-month low of 2.9 million b/d in December.
Looking forward in March, China's crude imports are likely stay at a high level despite planned refinery maintenance, trade flow tracking data showed.
Platts' trade flow tracker cFlow showed that seaborne imports in March may hit 10.69 million b/d, compared with 9.15 million b/d in February and 9.62 million b/d in January. China imports crude mainly by sea and pipelines.
"Actually, half of the arrivals in February have to be postponed into March for discharge due to weather conditions," a source with Qingdao port said and added it would be the reason for sustaining the import level in March. Qingdao is China's top crude port by turnover.
In March-April, about 1 million b/d of refining capacity at six state-owned refineries is scheduled to be shut for works, while May could also witness some maintenance, albeit at a relatively lower capacity level, Platts previously reported.
Meanwhile, five small-scale independent refineries and ChemChina have plans to shut for turnaround in March-May.
After crude prices rose in recent weeks, "we expect crude stocks in China to draw broadly in the coming months, limiting imports [in Q2]," Platts Analytics said in a monthly report dated March 5.
But crude inflows should rise subsequently, perhaps toward the end of Q2, as product inventories down the chain start to decline amid heavy maintenance and recovering demand, Platts Analytics said and added gasoil demand is particularly expected to be healthy on the back of spring ploughing and increasing outdoor construction activities.
Moreover, demand from new refineries may support the inflow. Zhejiang Petroleum & Chemical is preparing to commence operations of its 400,000 b/d refinery in Q2.
China's oil product exports rose 1.9% from a year earlier to 10.96 million mt in January-February, GAC data showed.
In comparison, the country's oil product exports fell 13.1% on the year in December and 32.2% in November.
Chinese refineries increased their gasoil export volume to above 2 million mt/month for February and March to ease domestic stock pressure and take advantage of improving margins in the Asia region, Platts reported.
In addition, bunkering demand recovered, boosting bonded fuel oil bunkering, which is taken into account as exports by GAC, market sources said.
Meanwhile, China imported 3.98 million mt of oil products in the first two months, dropping 19.4% from a year earlier.
As a result, the country's net oil product exports in January-February jumped 20.1% on the year to 6.98 million mt.
CHINA'S PRELIMINARY IMPORT, EXPORT DATA
(Unit: million mt)
Source: China's General Administration of Customs