* China ship exec says strategic oil reserves full up
* First acknowledgement of 100 mln bbls govt inventories
* Urges Beijing to rent floating storage to add to stocks (Adds more analyst comment, corporate reserve, writes through)
By George Chen and Zhang Shengnan
BEIJING, March 9 (Reuters) - China has filled all four of its state-owned emergency oil reserve tanks to the brim and should now invest in oil tankers to add more to inventories while oil prices are low, a senior industry executive said on Monday in a rare acknowledgement of Beijing’s secretive oil inventories.
Coupled with data last week showing a one-third rise in commercial crude oil stockpiles last year, the admission suggests that a large share of of China’s oil import growth last year was pumped directly into storage, and could be relied upon quickly to soften any demand recovery or if prices should rise.
It also backs up speculation that the world’s No. 2 energy user has been making good use of oil’s $100 price fall to boost supplies while demand falters in an unfolding economic crisis.
China Shipping (Group) Co President Li Shaode told Reuters on Monday that he had proposed that the government use some of its foreign exchange reserves on floating oil storage.
“The four onshore reserve bases have been fully filled, so we need to invest urgently in floating storage,” Li said on the sidelines of the country’s annual parliament.
The first set of China’s strategic oil reserves, which can hold about 100 million barrels, were built over the past two years, but data on their status is considered a state secret and information about their operations or tank levels is scarce.
China plans to build a second-phase strategic reserve that will nearly triple the first batch to 280 million barrels by 2011, and industry executives have said the current storage capacity has already become a hurdle to bringing in more imports.
Crude oil imports rose 9.6 percent last year to 179 million tonnes or about 3.58 million barrels per day (bpd), while implied oil demand rose by just 3.8 percent last year to about 7.26 million bpd, according to Reuters calculations. [ID:nPEK15526]
China is taking the supply security issue more seriously than the market thought, says Yan Kefeng, Beijing-based senior oil analyst with Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA).
“We expect China’s oil stockpiling to reach a peak in 2009, and continue into the next year,” Yan said, but did not give an estimate on the volume of stockbuild he expected.
Apart from pushing forward plans to add state reserves, Beijing has also been urging its state oil giants Sinopec Corp (0386.HK)(SNP.N) and PetroChina (0857.HK)(PTR.N) to stock up under so-called corporate mandatory reserves, said Yan.
“Apart from reasons of supply security, China also wants to contain the investment risk of its foreign exchange reserves.” said Yan, adding that China did not stop replenishing crude reserves last year when global crude topped $147 a barrel in July.
The remark is consistent with recent comments by government officials that China should better use its massive foreign exchange reserve to stock up key commodities from grain to metals to crude oil, and last week Beijing announced that it would boost its budget for stockpiling resources by $10 billion.
At $40, many believe oil presents a good opportunity to buy.
“China should do everything to take advantage of this short-term price opportunity; $40 oil is not going to last too long. I keep telling them (government officials) — what do you have to lose?” said Lin Boqiang, director of China Centre for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.
China should act quicker to boost storage capacity as its import dependence is set to surge in the coming decade.
“Floating storage bases are a good idea because China needs to do everything to boost reserves,” Lin said.
The stockfill was in line with a separate set of data released by China OGP, a publication run by the official Xinhua News Agency, which showed China’s crude inventories surged by about 70 million barrels last year to about 34 days of forward demand, although it did not make clear whether the figure referred only to commercial stocks or also strategic ones.
Together with record high stocks of gasoline and diesel accumulated ahead of last summer’s Olympics, the stockbuild also meant Chinese oil demand may have slowed more than it appeared.
The International Energy Agency has forecast Chinese oil demand to rise a mere 1.1 percent in 2009, the lowest growth rate since 2001, compared with an estimated 4.2 percent growth last year. Some analysts have already pointed to a contraction for this year.
“Apart from gasoline, we expect diesel, naphtha and fuel oil all to show negative growth in demand,” said CERA’s Yan. (Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu and David Stanway; Writing by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Ken Wills and Jonathan Leff)