China’s March crude imports slip 6% but rise slightly in Q1

*An aerial view shows a crude oil tanker at an oil terminal off Waidiao island in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China January 4, 2023. China Daily via REUTERS

– March crude oil imports slip 6.23% from previous year
– First quarter natural gas imports at highest level on record – Reuters records
– March refined fuel product exports up 9.4% on previous year

Beijing — China’s crude oil imports in March fell from high levels a year earlier but remained strong amid a surge in Russian shipments, official data showed on Friday.
Crude imports in March totalled 49.05 million metric tons, or about 11.55 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

That represented a 6.23% decrease from the relatively high 12.3 million bpd imported in March 2023, when fuel demand surged in the wake of China’s exit from harsh COVID-19 restrictions.
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Total crude imports for the first quarter stood at 137.4 million tons, a 0.7% increase from last year’s first quarter figure of 136.3 million tons.

Seaborne imports of Russian crude were expected to reach a record high of 1.816 million bpd in March, according to data from consultancy Kpler, as both state-owned and private refiners snapped up seven tankers of sanctioned Sokol fuel over the course of the month.

“March’s extremely high Russian imports are likely a one off on the back of unusually high Far East Sokol arrivals, and the momentum is very likely coming to an end as Russia is cutting crude exports,” said Emma Li, an analyst at Vortexa in Singapore.

“Chinese refiners will need to push some CPP (clean petroleum product) barrels into exports… when domestic demand is not very strong,” Li added.

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While China’s property crisis has been a major headwind for the broader economy and demand for diesel, manufacturing activity has surprised to the upside. The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) in March expanded for the first time in six months buoyed by higher export orders.

Domestic flight capacity in March rose around 1.4% over the same period last year, with growth in jet fuel demand stimulated by a roughly 90% increase in international flight capacity on 2023, data from analytics firm OAG showed.

Spurred by plunging global LNG prices, total natural gas imports, including piped gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), for the first quarter were at the highest level on record, Reuters records showed, totalling 32.9 million tons.

Natural gas imports for March rose 21.1% from a year earlier to 10.76 million tons, the data showed.

Prices of LNG for Asia at the end of March were down 26.9% on the same period last year, and down 47% from their peak in October 2023.

Customs data also showed exports of refined oil products, which include diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel and marine fuel, were up 9.4% from a year earlier at 6.02 million tons.

*Andrew Hayley; editing: Kim Coghill & Jason Neely – Reuters

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