SHANGHAI (Bloomberg) -- China’s record oil imports in March helped it top the U.S. as the world’s biggest buyer during the first quarter as stockpiling and aggressive buying by refiners coincided with slumping domestic production.
The world’s largest energy consumer imported 9.21 MMbpd, up 11% from February, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data Thursday from the General Administration of Customs. Shipments during the first quarter rose 15% to almost 105 million tons, or about 8.5 MMbpd. The U.S. imported almost 8.15 million during the first three months, Bloomberg calculations using weekly data show.
While the jump in March was seen as temporary, growing use of transportation fuels, new refineries and an expansion of emergency reserves have put China on a steady rise toward challenging the U.S. as the world’s biggest importer. Buying last month was likely boosted by stockpiling and purchases from the country’s independent oil refiners, which raised their processing of imported crude to a record last month, according to analysts from ICIS China, Citigroup and Energy Aspects Ltd.
"We could see a sharp drop in April following this surge," Li Li, a research director with ICIS China, said by phone. March shipments will result in a "fairly high" stockpile buildup and likely flowed into tanks leased for the country’s strategic petroleum reserves as the start of the newest government-owned storage is delayed, Citigroup analysts including Tracy Liao said in a note Thursday.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 September 2019 – Brent: US$69/b; WTI: US$63/b
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