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China's refinery output falls for first time in 20 mos due to maintenance

China's refinery output fell 3.3% in April from a year earlier, the first annual decline in 20 mos, as large refiners carried out regular maintenance and small independent plants curbed production due to thin profit margins.

Refinery throughput was 58.79 MMt, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday, equivalent to 14.3 MMbpd.

That's lower than 15.09 MMbpd in March and 14.45 MMbpd for the January-February period. The 3.3% fall was the first year-on-year decline since August 2022, according to Reuters' records of NBS data. State-run refineries such as Sinopec's Zhanjiang and Zhenhai refineries, as well as large independent refiner Dalian Hengli Petrochemical underwent planned maintenance in April, according to Chinese commodities consultancy Oilchem.

Smaller independent processors operated at less than 55% of capacity in April, down some 10 percentage points from a year earlier, Oilchem's data showed.

Throughput for January to April inched up 1.1% from a year earlier to 241.26 MMt, or 14.56 MMbpd, the data showed, reflecting a pick up in economic activity as more people travelled and so increased use of gasoline and aviation fuel.

State refining giants Sinopec and PetroChina both reported strong year-on-year fuel sales growth in the first quarter, domestically and for exports, as they cashed in on firm regional refining margins.

Jet fuel sales led the expansion followed by gasoline, though diesel fuel lagged as China's prolonged property woes cut into the use of the fuel for construction.

Passenger air traffic rose 1.84% year-on-year in April to 800,990 flights, a level about 4% higher than April of 2019 before COVID, according to civil aviation data provider Variflight.

While domestic flights last month dipped year on year, international flights more than doubled to 55,672, although they remained 30% lower than April 2019, the data showed.

NBS data showed China's crude oil production in April rose 1.3% from a year earlier to 17.47 MMt, or about 4.25 MMbpd. Year-to-date, output was up 2.1% on year at 70.95 MMt, or 4.28 MMbpd.

Natural gas production grew 3.2% last month to 19.8 billion cubic metres (bcm), and output between January and April rose 5% at 83 bcm.

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