China Crude Processing Falls to Four-Month Low on Weak Demand

China refined the least crude in four months as fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer slowed amid a cooling economy.

Processing in the January-to-February period fell 1 percent from a year earlier to 78.78 million metric tons, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement on its website today. That’s equivalent to an average of 9.79 million barrels a day, the lowest rate since October. The bureau in Beijing combines data for the two months, citing distortions from the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, whose timing differs each year.

Refiners are cutting oil processing as the pace of China’s economic expansion slows. Benchmark U.S. crude futures dropped the past three days, the longest losing streak in more than two months, after data on March 8 showed an 18.1 percent slump in exports. Industrial output rose 8.6 percent in January-February from a year earlier, the weakest for that period since 2009, the statistics bureau reported today.

“Both Sinopec and PetroChina had plans to cut crude runs amid high fuel stockpiles and sluggish demand,” Amy Sun, a Guangzhou-based analyst at ICIS-C1 Energy, said of the nation’s two biggest refiners. “We think the big increase in crude imports in January probably flowed to commercial inventories in east China.”

Crude production in the first two months climbed 0.3 percent from a year earlier to 33.7 million tons, while natural gas output gained 7.1 percent to 21.4 billion cubic meters, today’s data show. Power output rose 5.5 percent to 816.2 billion kilowatt-hours.

China imported a record volume of crude in January, according to customs figures last month. Overseas purchases were up 12 percent from a year earlier to 28.15 million tons, or about 6.66 million barrels a day.

— With assistance by Jing Yang

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