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China's May crude oil imports soar on increased buying by state-owned refiners

Singapore — Buying by state-owned refiners pushed up China's crude oil imports in May 15.4% year on year to 37.2 million mt, or 8.8 million b/d, but analysts said they expected crude inflows to ease in June due to high stocks.

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Imports in May rose 4.7% month on month, preliminary data released Thursday by the General Administration of Customs showed.

The imports are the second highest level ever after 9.21 million b/d imported in March this year.

"The increase was mainly from state-owned refiners as crude arrivals for independent refiners declined from April," said Hou Rui, an analyst with S&P Global Platts' China Oil Analytics.

Independent refineries in China's eastern Shandong and Hebei provinces imported 8.43 million mt, or 1.99 million b/d, of crude oil in May, down 3% from April despite a 46% year-on-year increase, Platts data showed.

He added that most of the cargoes for the state-owned refiners were booked in March when oil prices were low.

The monthly average Platts Dated Brent and Platts Dubai crude assessments were $51.56/b and $51.20/b respectively in March, a four-month low.

"Refinery outages remained high in May, so the incremental barrels are likely to flow into storage for use in June," Hou said.

Platts China Oil Analytics estimated that around 1.31 million b/d of refining capacity was shut in May for maintenance -- 728,000 b/d for Sinopec refineries and 285,000 b/d for PetroChina refineries. This was down from 1.5 million b/d in April, but still higher than last year.

Preliminary production data for May, including refinery runs, is scheduled to be released around June 14 by the National Bureau of Statistics.

Hou said that imports in June were likely to decline due to ample stocks and increase again in July due to peak summer demand for oil products.


China's oil product exports in May increased 5.5% year on year to 4.03 million mt following additional export quota issued in mid-May. Exports were up 15.1% from April.

"The high exports was an adjustment from the low level in April [at 3.5 million mt] when most of the exporting refineries were either short of quotas or under maintenance. We expect gasoil exports to rise from April" Hou said.

Platts COA estimated gasoil exports could reach 1.37 million mt in May from 1.23 million mt in April, but gasoline exports were probably around 827,000 mt from 910,711 mt in April.

China in mid-May allocated a new round of oil product quotas totaling 6.29 million mt for gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel exports under the general trade route to the four major oil product exporters.

The preliminary data released by the GAC does not give a breakdown by individual product. Detailed data are expected to be released in late June.

On the other hand, China imported 2.52 million mt of oil products, down 16.3% year on year but up 1.2% from April.

This included 1.22 million mt of fuel oil, which is classified by customs as No. 5-7 grade, down 19.7% year on year.

Higher exports and relatively stable imports in May pushed up China's net oil product exports by 86.4% year on year and 49.5% month on month.

--Oceana Zhou,
--Edited by E Shailaja Nair,