China’s Crude Imports Slow to 4-Month Low as Storage Tanks Fill

China’s record pace of crude imports is easing as its refiners fill commercial stockpiles and new tanks for holding emergency supplies remain under construction.

Overseas crude purchases totaled 26.81 million metric tons in March, data released on the website of the General Administration of Customs in Beijing showed on Monday. That’s equivalent to 6.34 million barrels a day, down 5.2 percent from February and the slowest pace since November.

China accelerated its crude imports last year amid an almost 50 percent collapse in benchmark prices and its buying is now slowing just as the global market struggles to sustain a recovery. Refiners including PetroChina Co. have filled more than half of their commercial storage capacity, according to ICIS China, a Shanghai-based commodities researcher.

“China’s crude stockpiling needs have waned with record buying in December,” Jean Zou, an analyst at ICIS, said by phone from Guangzhou. “From April onwards, refinery maintenance will also curb the nation’s imports.”

Refineries that account for 12 percent of the nation’s processing capacity will shut units during the second quarter, according to the researcher. Crude imports may drop to 23 million to 24 million tons each month from April to June, it predicted March 30.

The world’s second-largest oil consumer may boost crude imports when more facilities for holding emergency reserves begin operations, ICIS China said. It currently holds supplies equivalent to about 30 days of imports and the government is seeking to boost that level to 100 days by 2020, according to China Petrochemical Corp.

Third Phase

A proposed third phase of the country’s strategic stockpiling program will comprise 232 million barrels of capacity, said Gao Shixian, a deputy director at the National Development and Reform Commission’s energy research institute. The plan has yet to be approved, he said in Shanghai on Friday.

Four facilities with capacity to store about 72.5 million barrels may come online this year, Barclays Plc said in a report on March 30. China’s crude demand may be boosted by 140,000 to 170,000 barrels a day in 2015 and by as much as 190,000 barrels a day next year because of the need to fill strategic reserves, the bank predicted.

The nation’s imports surged to a record 30.4 million tons in December, or about 7.19 million barrels a day, customs data showed. China National United Oil Co., known as Chinaoil, bought 47 cargoes on a Singapore trading platform that were to be delivered that month, according to data from Platts, which operates the system.

— With assistance by Jing Yang

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