China's May Crude Oil Imports Drop, Knocked Off Top Buyer Spot


BEIJING, June 8 (Reuters) - China's oil imports fell about 11 percent in May from a year ago in the steepest drop since November 2013, likely knocking the country off its perch as the world's top crude buyer - a spot it claimed for the first time in April.

Lower imports by China, at a time when markets are expected to be oversupplied following OPEC's decision to keep its output targets unchanged, dragged down global crude prices on Monday.

China imported 23.24 million tonnes of crude in May, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. This puts China behind the United States, which imported just under 30 million tonnes last month, according to calculations based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

On a daily basis, China's imports hit 5.47 million barrels in May, down nearly 26 percent from April's record 7.37 million barrels per day (bpd).

Strong imports in the previous months indicate "there was a significant commercial inventory build", said Seng Yick Tee, director of SIA Energy in Beijing. In May, China's refineries likely used crude from commercial storage, leading to lower arrivals, Tee added.

China's appetite for crude is, however, expected to pick up in the second half of the year as new commercial and strategic storage tanks are finished.

A higher number of refineries offline for maintenance could also have dragged on crude demand in May. Energy Aspects estimates maintenance to have peaked last month with about 1.2 million bpd of capacity offline, double that of April.


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