India's oil imports at near three-year high in December

India’s crude oil imports in December soared to the highest levels in nearly three years to more than 5 million barrels per day (bpd) as its refiners cranked up output to meet a rebound in fuel demand, data from trade sources showed.

A boy walks past an oil tanker train stationed at a railway station in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/Files

India’s year-end rush for crude supplies coincided with stronger demand from north Asian buyers during winter, boosting prices and an accelerating de-stocking of floating storage globally.

December oil imports by India, the world’s third biggest crude importer and consumer, were about 29% more than the previous month and about 11.6% higher than a year earlier, the data showed, after fuel consumption rose for a fourth straight month to an 11-month high in December.

“India’s refinery utilisation rates are also nearing full capacity and probably refiners are replenishing inventory anticipating higher prices during winter,” said Ehsan Ul Haq, analyst with Refinitiv.

“This is the harbinger of a recovery in fuel demand and improving refining margins.”

However, India’s annual crude imports declined by about a tenth in 2020 from the previous year to 4.04 million bpd, the lowest in five years, data compiled by Reuters showed.

The share of India’s imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including supplies from the Saudi-Kuwait Neutral Zone, fell to a record low of 67% in December. OPEC’s average share for the first nine months of India’s current fiscal year which ends in March was about 74%.

OPEC's share of India's oil imports drop to record low

While India cut back imports from Middle Eastern, African and U.S. oil in December from the previous month, it marginally lifted its intake of Latin American and Caspian Sea oil.

Share of various regions in India's oil imports

In December, Iraq remained the top oil supplier to India followed by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Nigeria emerged as the fourth biggest supplier, pushing the United States down to the sixth position just after Brazil.

India's oil imports from key suppliers

Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Florence Tan and David Evans

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