(EnergyAsia, April 27 2011, Wednesday) — China’s oil appetite remained strong, rising 10.5% year-on-year to 38.96 million metric tons (mt), or 9.2 million b/d, in March said McGraw-Hill’s energy media specialist Platts.
While March demand eased from February’s peak of 9.58 million b/d, Platts said this is still fairly robust, as the world’s second largest oil consumer’s oil demand has stayed above 9 million b/d for five consecutive months.

With apparent oil demand at 9.19 million b/d in January and 9.58 million b/d in February, China’s Q1 oil demand averaged 9.32 million b/d. It appears that surging international crude prices have failed thus far to make a dent in the nation’s consumption, said Platts.

“Oil demand in the first quarter was buoyed by diesel consumption due to rising industrial production and increased agricultural demand with the onset of the spring planting season,” said Calvin Lee, Platts senior writer for China.

According to data released last week by the country’s top economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC),

China’s apparent demand for petroleum products reached a new monthly high of 21.73 million mt during March.

This is up 11.7% from the same period a year ago and some 13.9% more than February. The NDRC did not provide the figure for the previous record high.

For the first quarter, Chinese consumption of oil products reached 58.39 million mt, 10.2% higher compared with the same period last year. Gasoline demand rose 5.6% year over year and diesel demand grew 10.6%, according to the NDRC report.

In March, China’s refiners processed a combined 37.66 million mt of crude oil, or an average of 8.9 million b/d, 9% more than the crude throughput in March 2010, figures released earlier by the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

Mr Lee said: “Sources tell Platts that Chinese state oil majors have had to increase production of petroleum products in recent weeks, probably by directive of the central government, to fill a big gap in supply resulting from drastic cutbacks by private refiners in East China, where operations have been cut to as low as 30% of capacity due to dismal margins.”

At the same time, petroleum imports continued to expand in March as Chinese oil companies purchased more cargoes from the international markets to maintain ample supply of fuels to local industries.

Last month, the volume of oil product imports jumped 20.5% year over year to 3.88 million mt, the highest since December’s 3.96 million mt. Exports fell 2.3% to 2.58 million mt.

Net product imports, at 1.3 million mt for March, were up 124% from a year ago, but down 9.7% from February when net imports were 1.44 million mt.

March product exports were 2.58 million mt, the highest in eight months, as Chinese state companies sought to increase exports to make up for the loss in domestic refining margins.

Platts, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, is a leading global provider of energy, petrochemicals and metals information.