China March crude oil imports fall 14% on yr, gas imports lowest since Oct 2020

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Oil and gas tanks are seen at an oil warehouse at a port in Zhuhai, China October 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

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  • March crude imports 10.1 mln bpd, -14% on yr
  • Q1 imports average at 10.4 mln bpd, -8% yr/yr
  • March fuel exports down 40% yr/yr due to quota reduction
  • Natural gas imports the lowest since Oct 2020

SINGAPORE, April 13 (Reuters) - China's crude oil imports slipped 14% in March compared with the same month a year earlier, extending a two-month slide as independent refiners curbed purchases under narrowing margins and large state-owned refineries underwent maintenance.

The world's top crude oil buyer imported 42.71 million tonnes last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday, equivalent to 10.06 million barrels per day (bpd).

That compares with 11.69 million bpd in March 2021 and an average of 10.53 million bpd over January and February.

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First-quarter imports totalled 127.85 million tonnes, or 10.4 million bpd, down 8% or roughly 890,000 bpd less than the same period a year ago.

Analysts estimated China's independent refiners lowered their operations to just above 50% of capacity in March, compared with operating at more than 70% of capacity a year earlier, as global oil prices soared above $130 a barrel last month because of the Ukraine crisis, squeezing refining margins.

Domestic gasoline demand also took a hit in March as China's "dynamic clearance" COVID-19 control policy restricted mobility with lockdowns and led to the first decline in three months in Chinese vehicle sales. read more

Planned maintenance outages at several plants under refining giant Sinopec Corp , including refineries at Yangzi, Hainan and Tahe, shut combined processing capacity of 460,000 bpd, further curbing crude oil demand in March.

China's natural gas imports were 7.985 million tonnes last month, data showed, the lowest since October of 2020 according to Reuters record of customs data.

Refinitiv tanker tracking showed LNG imports last month were largely flat versus February at 4.8 million tonnes, but that is 15% below year-earlier levels as hefty spot prices hindered buying.

Customs data also showed refined oil product exports at 4.07 million tonnes for March, down 40% from the year-earlier level, following a tumble by one-third in the first two months of 2022.

That is in line with Beijing's steep reduction in fuel export quotas to discourage excessive refinery processing.

(1 tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil conversion)

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Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue and Kenneth Maxwell

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