BEIJING (Reuters) - China imported a record 7.15 million barrels of crude oil a day (bpd) in December, customs data showed on Tuesday, as the world’s second largest oil consumer took advantage of low oil prices to fill its strategic reserves.
China imported 30.37 million tonnes of crude oil for the month, the data showed, just shy of earlier estimates by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts.
An import surge that began in September has been sustained in part by implied oil demand that has remained over 10 million bpd for three months in a row. With oil prices at their lowest in almost six years, China also seized the chance to add potentially over 100 million barrels to its reserves in 2014, according to Reuters calculations.
Many analysts have said China is unlikely to hold to such high imports as it is close to filling its available reserve storage tanks. China’s slowing economy is also dragging on the outlook for oil demand growth.
“If you get a surge in December, you will most likely see a much softer January number. Or they may balance more in the 2-3 month range,” said Tom Hilboldt, head of Asia-Pacific oil, gas and petrochemicals research for HSBC in Hong Kong.
Chinese crude import figures tend to fluctuate more month to month, but over a quarterly base the variances are much more smoother, Hilboldt added.
Crude imports for all of last year reached 308.38 million tonnes, or 6.17 million bpd, up 9.5 percent from the previous year. The December imports were up 13.4 percent annually and nearly 20 percent from November.
China is currently in the second phase of filling its strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), and revealed in November that the first phase was holding roughly 91 million barrels.
Editing by Tom Hogue