* June implied demand 9.94 mln bpd, highest since Feb
* First-half demand 9.82 mln bpd, up 3.4 pct on yr
* H1 net fuel imports fall 17.5 pct on yr as exports rise
* June refinery runs hit four-mth high at 9.64 mln bpd (Adds quotes and milestones, wraps in demand)
By Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua
BEIJING, July 15 (Reuters) - China’s implied oil demand rebounded in June to the highest in four months as refineries returned from maintenance, but the recovery looks short of momentum amid prospects of slower economic growth through the rest of the year.
Despite implied demand being up 10 percent from a year ago and nearly 5 percent from May, analysts are expecting growth in oil use to remain roughly flat to last year.
The June numbers were strong because of a low comparative base and the heavy destocking China did last year, said Barclays analyst Sijin Chen, who pegged the country’s growth in oil demand at around 5 percent for 2013.
“The growth numbers are probably an exaggeration. The implied oil demand is not as much as the numbers are making it out to be,” Chen said.
The world’s second-largest fuel user consumed 9.94 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil last month, according to Reuters calculations based on government data released on Monday.
The rebound was mostly attributed to refinery runs that accelerated to a four-month high of 9.64 million bpd as plants returned from April-May maintenance. The high processing rates also suggested a drawdown in inventories as crude imports fell last month.
China’s crude stocks rose in each of the three months to June, with commercial inventories up 4.75 percent at the end of May from the month earlier.
For the first half of the year, implied oil demand was up 3.4 percent versus the same period a year ago at 9.82 million bpd, according to Reuters calculations. That was lower than last year’s growth of about 4.5 percent, the slowest in four years.
China’s annual GDP growth slowed in the second quarter to 7.5 percent, and Chinese officials have warned recently that the slower trend is likely to continue. That means China may not be the robust driver of global oil markets it has been over the past decade.
Implied oil demand is estimated by adding crude throughput and net imports of refined products, but excluding changes in inventories which China rarely discloses.
Weaker growth and the lack of new stimulus from Beijing weighs mostly on demand for diesel fuel - a bellwether for manufacturing activity - as well as on feedstock fuels, such as naphtha, for petrochemicals, analysts say.
“Diesel has performed poorly, dipping in real consumption by 0.5 percent in the first half according to our estimates,” said Dai Jiaquan, an analyst at the Research Institute of Economics and Technology, a research arm of state energy group CNPC.
Gasoline, however, recorded a robust 12 percent expansion in real demand thanks to healthy car sales, said Dai.
China’s net fuel imports fell by 17.5 percent in the January-June period on the year, as companies aggressively raised exports of diesel, gasoline and naphtha in the first five months to cash in on better export margins and to trim high domestic inventories. (Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Tom Hogue)