China crude oil runs rebound in April as fuel demand picks up

* April crude runs 13.1 mln bpd, 11% higher on month

* Fuel demand recovers as coronavirus lockdown unwinds

* Jan-April refinery runs down 3.4% on yr

* April natural gas output +14% on yr; crude oil +0.9%

BEIJING/SINGAPORE, May 15 (Reuters) - China’s daily crude oil throughput rebounded in April from a 15-month low in March as refiners cranked up operations to meet renewed fuel demand after lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak were eased.

The country processed a total of 53.85 million tonnes of crude oil last month, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Friday, equivalent to about 13.1 million barrels per day (bpd).

That some 11% higher than 11.78 million bpd in March, and also 0.8% above the level for April 2019.

Crude runs during the first four months of 2020 in China were 203.48 million tonnes, the statistics bureau data, equal to 12.28 million bpd, down 3.4% from a year earlier reflecting the drop in demand amid the coronavirus curbs.

The country’s gasoline and diesel consumption is expected to pick up in the second quarter as factories resume operations and travel restrictions are further relaxed.

Traffic congestion in big Chinese cities has exceeded levels before the coronavirus outbreak as commuters use more private cars to avoid public transport.

Amid the demand pickup, China’s independent, or ‘teapot’ refineries were motivated to ramp up production to take advantage of high profit margins of 870 yuan ($122.63) a tonne in April after crude oil prices dropped, Wang Zhao, an analyst at oil industry information consultant Sublime said, speaking before Friday’s data release.

That “theoretical margin” is up from 759 yuan a tonne in March, he said.

Meanwhile the monthly average capacity utilisation rate at teapot refiners rose to a record 73% in April, according to data tracked by Sublime

State-backed refiners have pushed up crude oil processing rates to around 79% in May, according to estimates from consultancy Longzhong Information Group, close to January’s 82% level before extensive movement restrictions were imposed to prevent the coronavirus spreading.

The statistics bureau also reported that China’s oil output in April rose to 15.87 million tonnes, up 0.9% from the same month a year earlier. Over the January-April period, China pumped out 64.44 million tonnes of crude oil, up 2% on the year.

Natural gas output expanded 14% last month to 16.1 billion cubic metres (bcm), the bureau reported, while January-April production grew 10% to 64.4 bcm.

tonne=7.3 barrels for crude conversion $1 = 7.0947 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing and Chen Aizhu in Singapore; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell