China's February crude imports surge 22 percent; gas imports drop from January

SINGAPORE/BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports rose to the third-highest volume on record on a daily basis on increasing purchases by new private refineries, while natural gas imports eased as demand dropped amid warmer temperatures, customs data showed on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A VLCC oil tanker is seen at a crude oil terminal in Ningbo Zhoushan port, Zhejiang province, China May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

China, the world’s biggest crude oil importer, took in 39.23 million tonnes of crude oil last month, the data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

That is the equivalent of 10.23 million barrels per day (bpd), up 21.6 percent from 8.41 million bpd during the same period the year before.

This the fourth month in a row that China’s crude imports held above the 10 million bpd mark. Last month’s crude arrivals also rose from January’s 10.03 million bpd.

Hengli Petrochemical, the operator of China’s first privately-owned large-scale refinery, said on Jan. 28 that the plant is set for full operation by the end of March.

Zhejiang Petrochemical has also begun test runs at some units at its refinery in east China though full pilot production is expected only during the second quarter.

“The new plants are one factor...The strong crude imports are also a reflection of fundamental demand support from the property sector and the speed-up in infrastructure building,” said Seng-Yick Tee of consultancy SIA Energy.

Imports for the first two months of 2019 gained 12.4 percent from a year ago at 81.83 million tonnes, or 10.12 million bpd.

Natural gas imports in February fell from a month ago as temperatures rose but were up from the same time in 2018.

Total natural gas imports including both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline gas were at 7.57 million tonnes last month, down from 9.81 million tonnes in January, but up 9.2 percent from a year earlier, the customs data showed.

With the heating season ending in mid-March, China’s LNG import demand, which hit record in January, will ease, said Lu Xiao, an analyst with IHS Markit.

“We’re expecting slower demand growth in total gas consumption and LNG imports this year,” said Lu.

Gas imports for the first two months of 2019 reached 17.36 million tonnes, up 18.5 percent from a year earlier, the data showed.

Data also showed China’s refined fuel exports were up 9.4 percent from a year ago at 3.81 million tonnes while imports fell 10 percent from a year earlier to 2.35 million tonnes.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Aizhu Chen; editing by Christian Schmollinger