(EnergyAsia, April 25 2012, Wednesday) — China’s oil demand turned in a mixed performance for March, rising year-on-year, but down from February, said energy media specialist Platts.

Its analysis of government data showed that Chinese oil demand rose 3.3% from year-ago levels to 40.23 million metric tons (mt), or 9.5 million b/d. But, this was down from the consumption levels of February (9.75 million b/d) and January (9.63 million b/d).

For the first quarter, China’s overall apparent oil demand rose by 2.2% year on year to an average 9.63 million b/d, buoyed by higher refinery runs and net oil product imports.

“That’s actually a recovery in the growth rate from the slowdown we saw hit in the fourth quarter of last year,” said Song Yen Ling, Platts Senior Writer for China.

“Growth rates have bounced back up to 2%-3%, as refiners stocked up ahead of the long Lunar New Year holiday and ahead of refinery turnarounds coming in the second quarter and seasonal diesel demand in the country’s spring growing season.”

Platts said China’s apparent oil demand grew just 0.7% year on year in December last year and by 1.6% in the fourth quarter.

China does not release official data on oil demand or commercial and strategic oil inventories. Platts calculates the country’s oil demand based on official data on refiners’ crude throughput and net oil product imports.

Platts said analysts expect overall demand growth to accelerate in the coming months because of likely increased demand for diesel during the planting season in the agricultural sector.

Higher manufacturing activity and bank loan growth in the economy also indicate oil demand could expand more in the second and third quarters.

However, there is likely to be some moderation in refinery runs as maintenance turnarounds start to kick-off in April and May, Ms Song said.

Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released April 13 show China’s refinery runs in March rose 1.9% year on year to 38.37 million mt or 9.07 million b/d. Daily runs in March were 2.6% lower than February’s average of 9.31 million b/d.

According to customs data officially released by China’s Customs Statistics (CCS) on April 21, crude oil imports in March totaled 23.55 million mt (5.57 million b/d). This is an increase of 8.7% year on year and down 6.7% from February’s 5.97 million b/d.

Platts said crude exports were 210,000 mt (49,700 b/d), representing a 38.2% drop from the same period last year.

Oil product imports in March rose 1% to 3.92 million mt (902,900 b/d) while oil product exports slid 20.2% year on year to 2.06 million mt (474,500 b/d).

In the first quarter, China’s average daily refinery processing rate was 9.26 million b/d, up 2.2% year on year. Oil product imports fell 3.2% to 846,600 b/d while oil product exports were down nearly 9% to 475,500 b/d, meaning net oil product imports into China rose 5.1% year on year to 371,100 b/d.