China Oil Imports Decline as Busy Port Curbs Crude Access

Updated on
China Growth: Are There Signs of Stability?
  • Nation’s crude imports fall 4.3% to 7.62 million barrels a day
  • Port congestion may have curbed buying from teapot refineries

Oil imports by China, the world’s biggest consumer after the U.S., fell to a four-month low as congestion at one of its biggest ports curbed purchases from independent refiners.

Inbound shipments in May totaled 32.24 million metric tons, data from the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday. That’s equivalent to 7.62 million barrels a day, down 4.3 percent from the previous month. Net oil-product exports fell by almost one-third from April to 810,000 tons.

China has been a bright spot for the global crude market as smaller refiners known as teapots increase purchases after authorities loosened restrictions for them to import oil. Qingdao port in Shandong province, where most teapots are based, has been congested this year from “unprecedented” tanker traffic, according to Liu Jin, general manager of Qingdao Shihua Crude Oil Terminal Co., which operates oil berths at the port.

“The congestion at the Qingdao port is highlighting the need to slow the pace of buying,” Michal Meidan, an Asia energy analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd., said by e-mail. “Prices have gone up, so teapots will use this to take stock of their buying patterns thus far.”

While imports slipped on a monthly basis, inbound shipments in the first five months of the year have surged 16.5 percent over the same period in 2015, according to customs data. The nation’s crude imports may ease over the May-June period as lack of storage and logistical bottlenecks limit purchases, BMI Research said in a report last month.

China’s refineries processed a record 44.75 million tons of crude in April, while output from its domestic fields slumped to the lowest in 14 months, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed last month. The nation’s coal imports were at 19.03 million tons last month and natural gas imports at 3.46 million tons, Wednesday’s data show.

Total exports fell 4.1 percent in dollar terms in May from a year earlier, the customs administration said Wednesday. Imports slipped 0.4 percent -- the smallest drop since late 2014 -- signaling an improvement in domestic demand.

— With assistance by Jing Yang

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE