UPDATE 1-China oil demand at 5-month high, heading for soft 2013 growth

Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:09am EST

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* Nov demand at 9.94 mln bpd, highest in five mths

* Jan-Nov demand 9.76 mln bpd, up 2.3 pct on yr

* Nov crude runs 9.77 mln bpd, -0.6% on yr, +1% on mth

By Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu

BEIJING, Dec 10 (Reuters) - China's implied oil demand rose 1.5 percent in November from the preceding month to a five-month high, as two major refineries restarted after an overhaul, but full-year growth is heading for the weakest rise in at least five years.

Fuel demand in the world's top net oil importer fell 5.1 percent to 9.94 million barrels per day from a year ago, according to Reuters calculations based on preliminary government data.

The slowdown in consumption in China, which has driven global oil demand growth for most of the past decade, has helped keep oil prices in check despite a plunge in exports by more than half from OPEC member Iran due to sanctions and prolonged outages in Libya.

Softer Chinese demand just as the consumption outlook in the West remains weak may weigh on oil if Iranian exports recover following a recent breakthrough nuclear deal with world powers.

For the first 11 months of 2013, China's implied oil demand rose 2.3 percent to 9.76 million barrels per day, down from 4.5 percent growth last year and the lowest growth rate since at least 2009.

"Domestic demand continued to lack momentum due to economic restructuring. The fast growth in oil demand over the previous years won't be repeated this year or next," a researcher at oil and gas producer China National Petroleum Corp said.

China's industrial output rose 10.0 percent in November from a year earlier, slightly below market expectations, while retail sales were up a stronger-than-expected 13.7 percent, data showed on Tuesday.

Implied demand is calculated by adding national crude oil throughput and net imports of refined oil products, ignoring stockpile changes, which are seldom disclosed by the government.

In its November report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) cut its growth forecast for China's oil demand to 3.8 percent from 4.0 percent for this year, and reduced its forecast to 3.7 percent for 2014 from 3.9 percent.

"Continued concerns about the sustainability of the Chinese banking sector, and official confirmation that the IMF has reduced its projections for Chinese economic growth, have curbed oil demand forecast for both 2013 and 2014," the IEA said.

China's oil demand is expected to rise an average 3.8 percent a year in 2014 and 2015, a senior researcher at top Asian refiner Sinopec said last month, with demand for transportation fuels being a main factor.

STEADY CRUDE RUNS

Refinery crude throughput in November was 40.17 million tonnes, or 9.77 million bpd, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier, but up 1 percent from October, data from the statistics bureau showed.

Sinopec's 400,000-bpd Maoming refinery in the southern province of Guangdong and 240,000-bpd Fujian refinery in southeastern Fujian province gradually restarted since mid-November after more than a month of maintenance.

A pipeline blast late last month believed to be caused by a crude oil leak from an aging Sinopec-owned pipeline in east China forced a three-day halt at a main crude oil terminal and forced several refineries to cut runs.

Sinopec may have raised throughput at other plants to compensate for production losses at the blast-affected plants, Chinese traders have said.

PetroChina has pushed back again the start-up of its greenfield 200,000-bpd refinery in southwest Sichuan to an unspecified date, as the project stills awaits final government clearance, two company sources said.

China's net fuel imports stood at 0.71 million tonnes in November, up 39 percent from 0.51 million tonnes in October, but down 47 percent from a year earlier.

China's commercial inventories of refined oil products fell for a fourth month in a row in October as domestic demand picked up and fuel exports rose, the official news agency Xinhua have said.

Commercial crude oil inventories also fell 1.84 percent at the end of October from a month earlier, it said, after rising about 10 percent in the previous two months. (Editing by Ed Davies)

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