Singapore — Crude oil imports for China's independent refineries in January eased 8.7% month on month to 11.52 million mt, or 2.72 million b/d, a monthly survey by S&P Global Platts showed Friday.
It represented a sharp year-on-year increase of 27.7%, which was higher than market expectations, but down from the historical high of 12.6 million mt in December.
The relatively strong imports in January mainly stemmed from logistical constraints, as several vessels scheduled for second-half December delivery were held up in long vessel queues and could only discharge their cargoes in January.
"We were unable to discharge all December deliveries until mid-January," a source with Qingdao port said.
Customs declarations for about half of the January imports through the ports were made using import quotas allocated in 2018, according to the source.
Quota holders typically need to use up their 2018 allocations on deliveries made before the end of the year.
Beijing in early January issued 84.06 million mt of crude import quotas to 44 qualified independent refineries under the first round allocation for 2019, enabling them to carry on imports for the new year.
Platts survey covers barrels imported for 38 refineries with quotas, and others without quotas, through ports mostly in Shandong province and Tianjin.
These refiners were awarded a combined 72.21 million mt in the first batch, accounting for 85.9% of the county's total crude oil import quota allocation for independent refineries in the same batch.
The barrels include those imported directly by refiners and trading companies, which will be used by the independent sector.
Only cargoes discharged over the month -- including those that arrived in previous months -- were counted as imports for the month.
AROUND 41% IMPORTS GO TO TOP FIVE BUYERS
ChemChina, PetroChina, Dongming Petrochemical, Qirun Petrochemical and Chambroad Petrochemical have topped the buyers list in January, receiving a combined 4.76 million mt, or 41.3% of the total imports.
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Dongming last month received around 794,000 mt, down 44.8% month on month, and was the only one among the five to register a fall.
Imports by Chambroad saw the biggest month-on-month increase of around 140.3% to 733,000 mt.
The refinery has continued to import Cold Lake to replace Merey crude for the production of asphalt.
In January, around 28 independent refiners, and five trading companies imported around 36 different grades of crude from 19 countries, with Gabonese Dussafu crude landing in Shandong for the first time.
This compared with 37 buyers importing 37 grades from 20 countries in December.
Some of those imported crude grades are not likely to be processed by their importers, as some usually import more than they can digest, according to market sources.
NO IMPORTS BY HENGLI IN JAN
Dalian Hengli Petrochemical in northeastern Liaoning province has not imported any crude in January, although it has started to feed crude into a newly built 10 million mt/year crude distillation unit in mid-December.
The refinery, which plans to complete trial runs in end-March, aims to process 300,000 mt first.
Last month, it had already processed over 200,000 mt of crude, according to a refinery source.
Meanwhile, the greenfield Zhejiang Petrochemical on January 31 also started to fed crude into a 10 million mt/year CDU, meaning the refinery also has started trial runs.
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