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China Coal, LNG Imports Rise to Record Highs on Winter Demand

China’s imports of coal and liquefied natural gas rose to a record in December as the world’s biggest energy consumer sought to meet increased demand for winter heating.

Coal imports, including lignite, gained 1 percent from a year earlier to 35.46 million metric tons, according to data e-mailed today by the General Administration of Customs in Beijing. The previous record was set in December 2012. Overseas purchases of LNG increased about 34 percent to 2.43 million tons, compared with a high of 1.83 million a year ago.

China’s consumption of the fuels, used to generate electricity, typically peaks in its winter months. The nation’s benchmark spot price for thermal coal climbed to a range of 600 to 610 yuan a ton at the port of Qinhuangdao in the week ended Dec. 29, the highest since June, according to the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association.

“Domestic coal prices soared in the last two months as local supplies were quite tight,” Luo Xiangmei, a coal analyst at ICIS-C1 Energy, said by phone from Guangzhou today. “This made overseas coal more attractive for end-users.”

China’s diesel exports fell 15 percent last month from a year ago to 307,152 tons, while imports dropped 99 percent to 758 tons, the data show. Gasoline exports rose 32 percent to 325,990 tons.

Imports of fuel oil, used as a refinery feedstock and to power ships, slid to 1.24 million tons in December, the lowest level in four months, according to the data. That’s down about 16 percent from November and 54 percent lower from a year earlier. Full-year purchases declined 13 percent to 23.5 million, the lowest since 2010.

China imported 28,000 tons of fuel oil from Iran last month, the least in five months, the data show. Purchases from the Persian Gulf country totaled 1.45 million for 2013. Russia was the largest supplier for the year with 5.5 million tons, Singapore shipped 4.2 million and Venezuela sold 3.9 million.

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