China Oil, Coal Buying Seen Sustained as Local Supplies Drop

Updated on
  • Falling oil output, higher refining may support crude imports
  • Coal imports may continue to rise to fill gap in supply

China’s appetite for foreign energy is as strong as ever.

Growing demand from oil refiners and the continued filling of strategic crude reserves in the face of domestic production declines will support crude buying by the world’s second-largest consumer, according to analysts from Energy Aspects Ltd. and ICIS China. Coal imports will continue to rise to help fill a supply gap left by a mining slowdown.

“Crude buying will remain substantial in the second half” of the year, Michal Meidan, an analyst at Energy Aspects, said by e-mail. “This is because domestic output is declining and there will also be SPR fills of around 50 million to 60 million barrels.”

Demand from the world’s largest energy consumer is a bright spot for energy markets hammered by oversupply. Oil has fluctuated in the past month since nearly doubling from a 12-year low earlier this year, partly on the back of supply cuts in countries like China. Coal is seen jumping as much as 50 percent if rainfall caused by La Nina is heavier than expected, further tightening supply as China cuts production, according to Citigroup Inc.

‘Flattish’ Demand

Purchases of oil from overseas surged more than 14 percent during the first six months of the year. Meanwhile, production fell 4.6 percent. China boosted coal imports to the highest in more than a year in June as a government campaign to curb overcapacity slashed domestic output by 16.6 percent in the same month.

The nation’s coal output will fall by 280 million tons this year as the government seeks to curtail industrial overcapacity, according to officials with the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planner. Coal imports will be sustained at more than 20 million tons a month in the second half of the year, according to Deng Shun, an analyst with ICIS China.

The strength in the nation’s import appetite contrasts with sluggish domestic demand for the fuels. The nation’s apparent oil consumption fell 0.7 percent in June from a year earlier, data compiled by Bloomberg show. China’s coal demand is set to drop by 3.4 percent this year, according to Citigroup Inc.

“Lower domestic production ahead means China must import more crude just to meet flattish demand,” said Gordon Kwan, head of Asia oil and gas research at Nomura Holdings Inc.

Not all analysts see demand growth stalling. Using an expanded measure to include components such as liquefied petroleum gas and mixed aromatics, demand through May expanded by 460,000 barrels a day, or 4 percent over the same period last year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Abhisek Banerjee said in a research note Monday. On average, the bank sees annual demand growth this year at 350,000 barrels a day.

— With assistance by Jing Yang

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