China's apparent oil demand in March climbed 12.8% from a year ago to 35.25 million tonnes or about 8.12 million barrels per day (b/d), but fell below the all-time high of 8.5 million b/d estimated for February, according to a Platts analysis of official data just released.
Amid growing refining capacity in the country and high refinery utilization rates, March was also the seventh month in row the world's second-largest oil consumer after the US posted double-digit on-year growth in oil consumption.
The latest growth spurt goes back to September 2009, a month that saw Chinese oil consumption leap 12.6% on year to 28.41 million tonnes. However, the November 2009 high of an 18.7% on-year leap in demand remains unsurpassed.
For the first quarter of this year, Chinese petroleum demand averaged around 8.1 million b/d according to Platts estimates, up 16% versus the corresponding period of 2009. The country's refiners collectively processed 100 million tonnes of crude in the first three months of the year, or an average 8.15 million b/d, a 21.6% rise from a year ago, helped by new capacity brought on stream through 2009 by state-owned giants Sinopec, PetroChina and China National Offshore Oil Corp.
"The Chinese economy appears to be moving at full steam once again, going by the 11.9% gross domestic product growth reported for the first quarter, and is pulling along oil consumption in its wake," said Vandana Hari, Asia news director at Platts. "Industrial production and retail sales both climbed by a strong 18% in March, while Q1 car sales were up a whopping 76% from a year ago, no doubt feeding into both gasoil and gasoline demand."
"Some of the March demand could be attributed to stockpiling of refined products ahead of an anticipated price hike in the domestic market, which Beijing implemented from April 14. But the effect could be discounted because of a similar price hike in late-March 2009, and the on-year growth consumption is still strong," Hari added.
With increased domestic production of fuel, China's oil product imports continue to decline. March refined product purchases from overseas totaled around 3.39 million tonnes, down 3.4% from a year ago. At the same time, Chinese oil product exports vaulted nearly 67% from a year ago to 2.7 million tonnes in March, official statistics showed.
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