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Singapore — India ended the first quarter of 2018 with robust oil products demand growth of 8.5%, the fastest quarterly growth since Q3 2016, as a renewed push on infrastructure projects and surging auto sales lifted gasoline and gasoil consumption.

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"India's oil products demand has continued on a positive upswing since September on improving economic activity. While impressive, these rates came against a relatively weak base last year, as demand in Q1 2017 had contracted by nearly 2% year on year," S&P Global Platts Analytics director of oil market analysis for Asia Pacific Lim Jit Yang said.

India Q1 oil products demandIndia's overall oil product demand in March rose 7.2% year on year to 18.62 million mt, or 4.71 million b/d, from 17.37 million mt a year earlier, latest provisional data from the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell showed. Over January-March, oil product demand rose 8.5% year on year to 52.36 million mt, or 4.57 million b/d, from 48.25 million mt a year earlier.

Most oil analysts are of the view that the initial challenges of India's key economic reforms -- demonetization and the Good and Services Tax -- are largely over, setting the stage for demand to bounce back in 2018. However, rising crude oil prices could have some dampening impact on demand.

Platts Analytics expects India's oil demand to grow by 300,000 b/d in 2018, compared with only 120,000 b/d in 2017.

Analysts said as elections inch closer, the anticipated surge in the use of commercial vehicles to support infrastructure projects would keep gasoil demand robust for the whole of 2018. In addition, increased rural spending would also support demand for tractors, which in turn would help gasoil demand.

India's posted diesel consumption growth of 9.4% year on year in January-March, rising to 20.53 million mt, from 18.77 million mt in the same period a year earlier. Diesel demand grew 8% year on year in March alone, rising to 7.35 million mt, from 6.8 million mt in March 2017.

"Higher spending on infrastructure projects as well as construction activity have increased disposable income in rural markets, resulting in higher use of commercial vehicles and tractors," Facts Global Energy senior analyst Senthil Kumaran said.

Under the 2018 federal budget, the government has increased its spending on rural infrastructure and agriculture by 24% year on year.

"There is a potential upside to gasoil demand in the second half of this year due to upcoming state elections. We estimate gasoil demand to grow by 4.1% year on year in 2018," Kumaran added.


Gasoline demand witnessed the fastest growth among all oil products, with consumption rising by a robust 15.1% year on year in January-March to 6.68 million mt, from 5.81 million mt in the same period a year earlier, PPAC data showed. In March alone, gasoline consumption grew 14.2% year on year to 2.4 million mt, from 2.11 million mt in March 2017.

A spurt in demand for two-wheelers and scooters helped gasoline demand in Q1. Sales of two-wheelers, which accounts for about 60% of the total gasoline consumption, surged 18.4% year on year in March. In addition, as the price gap between gasoline and gasoil continues to narrow, there is a surge in popularity of gasoline-fueled SUVs, analysts said.

Most analysts expect India's gasoline demand to grow close to double-digits in 2018.

India's LPG consumption grew by 7.1% year on year to 6.08 million mt in January-March, from 5.68 million mt in the same period a year earlier.

In March, LPG demand grew around 8.8% year on year to 2.06 million mt, from 1.89 million mt, PPAC data showed.

India is aggressively pushing to ensure that the country embraces LPG as a cooking fuel. The country is expected to invest $3.9 billion-$4.7 billion in developing infrastructure facilities for LPG to raise household connections to 95.5% by 2020, oil ministry officials said.

The government has initially set a target of 50 million new LPG connections by 2019. This target was further raised to 80 million over an extended period as part of this year's federal budget, which could accelerate LPG consumption growth.

"This will support stellar growth of LPG demand in 2018 and in 2019. LPG demand should grow by 10.3% year on year this year," Kumaran added.

India's jet fuel consumption grew by 9.6% year on year to 2 million mt in January-March, from 1.83 million mt a year earlier. In March, demand rose 11% to 685,000 mt, from 617,000 mt a year earlier.

The country's air transport sector has huge potential to grow, underpinned by favorable government policies and rising consumer affluence. Analysts said although the first phase of the government's new aviation policy kicked off last year, there has been some delays.

Some airlines faced hiccups in procurement of aircraft, while others suffered because of delays in bringing some of the airports back in operation.

-- Sambit Mohanty,
-- Edited by Norazlina Jumaat,