China's Saudi crude oil imports in Feb hit near record high

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s monthly oil imports from Saudi Arabia hit their second highest level on record in February, while arrivals from Russia also surged, as weak crude prices prompted the world’s top energy consumer to bring in record high volumes last month.

China’s total oil imports rose about 20 percent on year to the highest ever on a daily basis in February, when near 10-year low global oil prices drove buying from a group of new importers and for state and commercial stockpiling.[O/CHINA1]

Saudi Arabia was China’s top supplier in February with shipments of 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd), customs data showed on Monday, slightly below a record 1.39 million bpd in February 2012. Russia came in third, behind Angola, with shipments of 1.03 million bpd, up almost 48 percent on a daily basis from a year ago.

While historically Saudi Arabia has been China’s top supplier, its position has increasingly been challenged by Russia. Monthly Russian imports have surpassed those from Saudi Arabia six times since November 2014, most recently in December.

Russia could further narrow the gap with the Saudis in 2016 if it is able to tap into a growing demand from teapot refineries in China, which have together applied for crude import quotas of 1.8 million bpd, equivalent to roughly 20 percent of the country’s total imports.

Meanwhile, shipments from Iran, which has emerged from years of economic isolation over its nuclear programme, were up about 1 percent on a daily basis from the same month last year, reaching 538,000 bpd in February.

Iran’s total crude oil and gas condensate sales will reach 2 million bpd “in the coming days”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week, according to Iranian media.

One regular Chinese buyer of Iranian condensate, Dragon Aromatics, was forced to shut its plant after a fire last April, contributing to a small decline in imports from Iran last year.

China’s Sinopec, Asia’s top refiner, and Chinese state trader Zhuhai Zhenrong are together contracted to lift around 505,000 bpd of Iranian crude in 2016.

Reporting By Adam Rose; Editing by Himani Sarkar