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China Turns Net Diesel Importer; Coal Imports Surge

China turned a net diesel importer in May for the first time in three months, while boosting coal imports as the cost of overseas supplies declined.

Net purchases, or imports minus exports, of diesel were 17,476 metric tons last month, according to Bloomberg calculations from customs data released today. The nation was a net exporter in March and April. Shipments of coal, including lignite, rose 62 percent from a year ago to 26.17 million metric tons, the highest level this year, the figures showed.

China’s diesel demand rose 0.4 percent in May from the previous month to 3.5 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Australian coal at Newcastle, a benchmark grade for Asia, has fallen to a record discount to domestic prices, analysts at UOB-Kay Hian Ltd. said in a report June 18.

“May usually sees strong demand for diesel from the construction and agricultural sectors,” Gong Jinshuang, a Beijing-based senior engineer at China National Petroleum Corp., the nation’s biggest oil company, said by telephone. “But we won’t likely see significant improvement in diesel demand in the coming months as economic growth is still sluggish.”

Power-station coal prices at the port of Qinhuangdao were in a range of 725 yuan ($114) to 740 yuan a ton as of June 17, the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association said June 18. Thermal coal at Newcastle fell 5.7 percent to $83.75 in the week ended June 15, according to IHS McCloskey, a Petersfield, U.K.-based provider of data. That was the 10th week of declines and lowest level since the week ended Dec. 18, 2009.

China’s total diesel imports were 196,469 metric tons last month, up 56 percent from a year earlier, while gasoline exports were at 132,817 tons, today’s data showed. Purchases of liquefied natural gas were at 1.14 million tons, up 18 percent.

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