China’s crude imports are forecast to increase at the fastest pace in four years as oil demand in the world’s second-largest economy accelerates and additional storage tanks are filled.
China, which consumes more oil than any country except the U.S., may boost net imports to 6.02 million barrels a day, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of seven analysts and refiners conducted from Feb. 20 to today. That would be about 7 percent more than 5.63 million last year, signaling the biggest expansion since 2010.
Growth in consumption “is the main driver of this development while stock-building, both for strategic petroleum reserve and infrastructure fill, also add to the figure,” said David Wech, the managing director of JBC Energy GmbH, a consultant in Vienna.
Net imports of crude will rise by 380,000 barrels a day to 6.08 million in 2014, Wech forecasts. Imports alone surged to a record for a second month in January to 28.5 million metric tons, or about 6.66 million barrels a day, data from the General Administration of Customs in Beijing show.
“Steady growth” in demand briefly led China to become the world’s largest net oil importer, surpassing the U.S. in September, the Energy Information Administration in Washington said in October. This trend will continue through 2014, predicted the Energy Department’s statistical unit.
China will retake the lead from the U.S. in oil demand growth this year as its manufacturing and transportation industries expand, according to the International Energy Agency. Consumption is forecast to climb 3.6 percent, or 369,000 barrels a day, to 10.49 million barrels a day, the Paris-based adviser to developed nations said in its monthly report on Jan. 21.
Storage capacity of 57.9 million barrels, to be used for emergency oil reserves, may be ready for operation this year, Sijin Cheng, a commodities analyst at Barclays Plc in Singapore, said in a note on Feb. 14. China’s crude stockpiling, both for commercial and strategic purposes, will be an important factor through the first half and Brent crude prices below $100 a barrel may entice buying, Energy Aspects Ltd., a consultant in London, said in a report on Feb. 21.
Brent futures, one of several crude grades monitored by the government in Beijing, last settled below $100 a barrel on May 1 and traded at about $110.50 today.