(Updates with percentage change in second paragraph.)
Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) --China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, imported a record amount of crude in January as new refineries started and plants ramped up runs before maintenance.
Crude purchases from overseas increased 7.4 percent from a year ago to 23.41 million metric tons last month, according to preliminary data today on the website of the Beijing-based General Administration of Custom. That is equivalent to 5.54 million barrels a day. Final figures are scheduled to be released on Feb. 21. The country bought 23.29 million tons in September 2010.
China is expected to increase its crude imports this year as refining capacity expands and domestic production lags behind demand growth. The nation may buy 9 percent more than last year, or an average 5.6 million barrels a day in 2012, according to the median estimate of seven analysts and traders in a Bloomberg survey last month.
“The refineries are presumably running higher because they’re going into maintenance in March and April and they need to ramp up fuel inventories before they start,” Brynjar Eirik Bustnes, head of Asia Pacific oil and gas research at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said by telephone from Hong Kong. “We’ll continue to see record numbers because domestic crude production is not growing and demand is, so the only way is to ramp up imports.”
Net crude purchases, or imports minus exports, rose to 5.46 million barrels a day in January, from 5.1 million barrels a day in December, today’s data showed. The average purchase price was $108.53 a barrel, down from $110 the prior month.
China’s state-owned refiners plan “major” maintenance in the second quarter that will affect the equivalent of 12 percent of the nation’s oil-processing capacity, Oilchem.net said Jan. 18, without elaborating. The nation’s apparent crude consumption is expected to rise 5.3 percent this year while crude output will rise by 1.5 percent, according to the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation.
China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, started operation of its Beihai refinery in Guangxi province on Jan. 1 with an annual crude processing capacity of 5 million tons. PetroChina Co.’s Ningxia refinery, able to process 5 million tons a year, started trial operations on Jan. 1.
Net purchases of oil products including diesel and gasoline reached 1.09 million tons last month, down from 1.79 million tons in December. China’s coal exports fell 29.7 percent from a year ago to 1.01 million tons last month, according to today’s data.
--Chua Baizhen and Jing Yang. Editors: Christian Schmollinger, Paul Gordon
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