China's August crude oil imports drop on lower refinery runs

China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)'s Dalian Petrochemical Corp refinery is seen near the downtown of Dalian in Liaoning province, China July 17, 2018. Picture taken July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Chen Aizhu
  • Aug crude oil imports 9.5 mln bpd, down 9.4% on yr
  • Jan-Aug imports down 4.7% yr/yr
  • Aug refined fuel exports at 14-mth high on quotas
  • Jan-Aug natural gas imports down 10.2% on yr

SINGAPORE, Sept 7 (Reuters) - China's crude oil imports in August fell 9.4% from a year earlier, customs data showed on Wednesday, as outages at state-run refineries and lower operations at independent plants caused by weak margins capped buying.

The world's largest crude importer brought in 40.35 million tonnes of crude oil last month, equivalent to about 9.5 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

That compared to 8.79 million bpd in July and 10.49 million bpd in August 2021.

Imports for the first eight months totalled 330.18 million tonnes, or about 9.92 million bpd, down 4.7% versus the same period last year, as extended COVID-19 restrictions crimped fuel demand.

Shutdowns at refineries last month also likely impacted imports.

Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Corp's 320,000-bpd plant only resumed partial operation around mid-August after an unplanned shutdown of more than seven weeks. PetroChina-controlled Wepec's 200,000-bpd plant began to resume the operation at the end of August after an overhaul that lasted nearly three months.

Independent plants in the refining hub of Shandong province operated at an average of just under 65% in August, down from nearly 70% in July, amid plant overhauls and lower profit margins, said Chinese commodities consultancy JLC ahead of the data release.

While forecasting a rebound in second-half fuel demand, refining giant Sinopec Corp expected its crude throughput during the June-December period to remain flat to the first-half of 2022. read more

Beijing launched a fresh round of tax investigations into independent refiners last month, a move that could further dampen their future oil purchases. read more

Reuters Graphics

Wednesday's data also showed refined oil product exports rebounded to 4.78 million tonnes, the highest since June 2021, versus 3.41 million tonnes in July, thanks to newly released government export quotas. read more

Year-to-date exports were 33.5% lower versus the same period a year ago at 29.82 million tonnes.

Natural gas imports last month via pipelines and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) were 8.85 million tonnes, down 15.2% from a year earlier, despite the start of stockpiling season for winter heating.

Imports for the first eight months of 2022 dropped 10.2% to 71.05 million tonnes.

Record spot LNG prices breaching $70 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) curtailed buying by Chinese importers especially as domestic demand growth declined amid a struggling economy.

(tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil)

Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Muyu Xu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christian Schmollinger

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