* Dec demand up 8.4 pct on year to record 10.52 mln bpd
* 2012 demand up 4.5 pct to 9.66 mln bpd, beating IEA forecast
* 2013 demand growth may pick up as economy recovers
By Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu
BEIJING, Jan 18 (Reuters) - China’s fuel consumption in 2012 experienced the slowest growth since 2008, yet it beat forecasts by the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the demand growth is expected to accelerate this year as the country’s economy recovers.
Implied oil demand in 2012 in the world’s second-largest fuel consumer rose 4.5 percent, or 420,000 bpd on the year, according to Reuters calculations based on preliminary government data, beating the IEA forecast for growth of 3.3 percent, or 301,000 bpd.
In December, implied oil demand rose 8.4 percent to a record 10.52 million bpd, a touch above the previous record in November. The full-year consumption stood at 9.66 million bpd.
The 4.5 percent annual increase was slower than the 6.3 percent growth of 2011 and the double-digit growth in 2010.
Implied demand is a combination of crude oil throughput and net imports of refined oil products, ignoring stocks changes, which are seldom disclosed by the government.
In its December report, the IEA estimated Chinese oil demand at 9.5 million bpd in 2012, up 3.3 percent from 2011. The agency has forecast a similar, modest growth for this year at 3.2 percent, or 303,000 bpd, to 9.8 million bpd, “as economic growth is expected to remain below its recent lofty heights.”
Other analysts are more upbeat. Cheng Sijin, Barclays’ Singapore-based commodity analyst, expects demand to continue recovering in 2013 with growth of around 460,000 bpd.
Cheng said the strong numbers for November and December may have masked some stockbuilding following draws on inventory in previous months.
“With Chinese New Year in the first quarter and then spring maintenance, it would be interesting to see if real demand picks up quickly enough to keep inventories at a healthy level,” she said.
The semi-official China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Association (CPCIA) forecast this month that China’s implied consumption of oil products, mainly including gasoline, diesel and kerosene, would grow 6.2 percent to 292 million tonnes in 2013.
Fuel consumption in China, the driver of global oil demand growth in the last decade, was sluggish for most of 2012. But it ticked up from September as the world’s second-largest economy showed some signs of recovery.
China’s economy regained speed in the final quarter of 2012, as it pulled out of a post-global financial crisis downturn that produced the slowest year of economic growth since 1999.
Official data showed on Friday that China’s economy grew 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier with a bounce that snapped seven straight quarters of slowing expansion. Full year growth of 7.8 percent was just ahead of a Reuters poll’s 7.7 percent call and comfortably ahead of the government’s own 7.5 percent target.
China’s refinery throughput rose 8.4 percent in December over a year earlier, and grew 3.7 percent for the whole of 2012, data showed on Friday, slower than the previous year as demand eased with a slowing economy.
Refineries processed 43.12 million tonnes, or a record 10.15 million barrels per day (bpd), of crude oil in December, the National Bureau of Statistics said, as new refining capacity came on stream.
Daily runs were around 0.2 percent, or 25,000 bpd, higher than November’s 10.125 million bpd, which topped the 10 million bpd mark for the first time.
Crude runs for the whole of 2012 expanded 3.7 percent at 467.91 million tonnes, or 9.36 million bpd, the statistics bureau said. That compared with 4.9 percent growth for 2011.
CPCIA forecast China’s crude runs to rise 4.5 percent, or roughly 416,000 bpd, this year.
Around 600,000 bpd of new refining capacity is expected to be added in 2013, according to Reuters data, and Beijing’s expected move to revamp its fuel pricing scheme would help bolster refinery throughput.
“With inflationary expectations largely benign at the moment, the policymakers may have an incentive to make fuel prices more flexible and react to crude prices more quickly, which could protect steady margins by the refiners and encourage runs,” Barclays’ Cheng said.
(Factbox of China’s refinery plans: )
China’s net imports of refined fuel rose 4.3 percent to 297,800 bpd in 2012. In December, net fuel imports fell 8.4 percent to 370,300 bpd.
For 2013, analysts expect China to stockpile crude as more oil storage tanks will be ready. Stockpiles do not directly contribute to implied oil demand, but filling the tanks would boost crude imports.