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China November crude oil imports hit 10-mos high on stock build, new plants

SINGAPORE—China's crude oil imports in November rose 12% from a year earlier to their highest in 10 mos, data showed on Wednesday, as companies replenished stocks with cheaper oil and as new plants started up.

The world's largest crude importer brought in 46.74 MM metric t of crude oil last month, equivalent to 11.37 MMbpd, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. That was up from 10.16 MMbpd in October and 10.17 MMbpd in November 2021.

Chinese state refiners stepped up purchases of U.S. crude oil, taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities, while maintaining high imports of Russian oil ahead of the December 5 European embargo and imposition of an oil price cap.

Independent traders last month also moved a record amount of deeply discounted Iranian crude passed off as oil sourced from Malaysia, Oman or elsewhere, according to tanker tracker Vortexa Analytics. The higher imports resulted in a crude oil stock build of 41 MMbbl over the month, Vortexa estimated.

Also contributing to the rebound was the startup in late October of a 200,000-bpd crude oil unit at PetroChina's newly built refinery in Guangdong, while private refiner Shenghong Petrochemical said in mid-November that it shipped out its first batch of refined products.

Imports for the first 11 mos of the year totaled 460.26 MM metric t, or about 10.06 MMbpd, down 1.4% from the corresponding period last year.

Wednesday's data also showed fuel exports reached 6.144 MM metric t, the highest since June 2021 and up from 4.456 MM metric t in October, reflecting Beijing's additional release of quotas.

Year-to-date exports, at 46 MM metric t, remained 19% below year-ago levels due to a broad curb on fuel exports earlier in the year.

Natural gas imports last month via pipelines and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) reached a 10-mos high of 10.32 MM metric t, as northern China entered its second month of winter heating.

Year-to-date imports were 9.7% below a year ago at 99 MM metric t, with annual imports of LNG set for their first major decline since 2006 as demand was crimped by surging global prices and a stagnant economy hobbled by strict COVID-related restrictions.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Edmund Klamann)

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