Platts: China's Rising Demand in Step with Economic Growth

China's apparent oil demand in December jumped 16.1% from a year ago, in step with the country's brisk economic growth.

December also marked the fourth straight month that the world's second-largest oil consumer posted double-digit yearly growth in oil demand. Chinese oil demand reached 34.5 million metric tons (mt), or 8.16 million barrels per day (b/d), in December, versus 29.74 million mt a year ago, a Platts analysis of official data showed on January 22.

December oil consumption, however, was slightly lower compared with the November average of 8.22 million b/d.

For the full year 2009, China's apparent oil demand climbed to 389.84 million mt, or 7.82 million b/d, up nearly 6.6% from 2008, Platts data showed.

"Beijing's stimulus package and massive government spending on infrastructure projects managed to return China to red-hot economic growth by the end of last year, propping up domestic consumption of products, including oil," said Vandana Hari, Asia news director at Platts. "The question now is what growth rates we will see if China applies the brakes on its stimulus and banks withdraw the generous loans that have helped fuel a buying frenzy of consumer goods among the newly affluent."

Gross domestic product in the world's third-largest economy grew by 10.7% in the fourth quarter of 2009, the fastest in two years. But Beijing is keeping a wary eye on inflation and the risk of bad debts, while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have warned anew that the country could face a U.S.-style bubble.

Meanwhile, Chinese refiners processed 27.72 million tonnes of crude in December, a whopping 24.8% higher than the corresponding month a year ago, and also pushed more barrels into the export markets. The country was a net exporter of 80,000 mt of fuel in December, with gasoline, kerosene and jet fuel contributing largely to the net outflow of products.

With domestic crude production stagnant, imports rose in tandem with refining rates in December, to a new historic high of 5.04 million b/d.