China crude imports hit record; gas imports in first fall in three years

China’s crude oil imports in October rose 11.5% from a year earlier to a record high, customs data showed, as new refineries bolstered demand and small independent plants maintained throughput amid steady refining margins.

However, natural gas imports last month fell 10.6% from a year earlier, its first decline since November 2016, according to Reuters’ records of customs data.

China, the world’s top oil importer, brought in 45.51 million tonnes of crude last month, equivalent to 10.72 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data released by the General Administration of Customs.

That compared to 10.04 million bpd in September.

Imports during the first 10 months of the year reached 414.55 million tonnes, or 9.95 million bpd, 10.5% higher than the year earlier period.

“Strong refining margins in August prompted both national oil companies and the independents to ramp their crude purchases, which mostly were reflected in October data,” said Joey Chen, an oil consultant at FGE.

But, Chinese refiners have had a tough year because of fierce competition in the domestic fuel market as demand fell in tandem with a moderating economy.

Top Asian refiner Sinopec Corp reported last week its third-quarter earnings dropped 35% versus a year ago partly due to narrowing refining profits.

PetroChina, which posted a 58% year-on-year fall in third-quarter profit, expects the domestic fuel market to remain sluggish in the fourth quarter, a company executive told an analysts’ briefing last week.

Total natural gas imports, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline, last month fell to 6.52 million tonnes, the lowest since February 2018, and down from September’s 8.21 million tonnes, customs data showed.

The unusual year-on-year fall in October imports was partly caused by an outage of a key PetroChina-operated import terminal.

Gas imports in the January to October period reached 77.71 million tonnes, up 7.9% from the same period last year.

China’s imports of LNG are forecast to grow by as much as 17% this year, a third of the pace of last year, reflecting a slower government push to convert homes to gas heating from coal.

The customs data also showed the country exported 5 million tonnes of refined oil products in October, up a quarter from a year earlier, and compared to 5.68 million tonnes in September.

Exports for the first 10 months were 52.75 million tonnes, up 9.3% from the same period last year.

Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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