China crude oil runs rebound in April as fuel demand picks up

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BEIJING: China’s daily crude oil throughput rebounded in April from a 15-month low in March as refiners cranked up operations to meet renewed fuel demand after lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak were eased.

The country processed a total of 53.85 million tonnes of crude oil last month, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Friday, equivalent to about 13.1 million barrels per day (bpd). That was some 11 percent higher than 11.78 million bpd in March. The agency said on Friday it had adjusted the database of industrial enterprises it uses to help compile a range of production numbers. On that basis, Friday April’s crude oil throughput was 0.8 percent above the year-ago level, it said.

“In terms of year-on-year percentage change, we only included the companies that existed in both years,” a spokesperson from the agency’s media relations department said. “For instance, if a company existed in 2019 but does not exist in 2020, then their figure in 2019 will not be included in 2020 year-on-year percentage calculation.” Analysts said it would not be not surprising for the agency to revise its year-ago numbers.

“We’ve noticed over the years that the bureau tweaks the refinery output figures often toward end of the year due to under-reporting or delays in data providing by some plants,” said Seng Yick Tee, senior director at consultancy SIA Energy. Crude runs during the first four months of 2020 in China were 203.48 million tons, according to Friday’s official data, equal to 12.28 million bpd, representing a 3.4 percent drop from a year earlier.

The country’s gasoline and diesel consumption is expected to pick up in the second quarter as factories resume operations and travel restrictions are further relaxed.  Traffic congestion in big Chinese cities has exceeded levels before the coronavirus outbreak as commuters use more private cars to avoid public transport.

Amid the demand pickup, China’s independent, or “teapot” refineries were motivated to ramp up production to take advantage of high profit margins of 870 yuan ($122.63) a ton in April after crude oil prices dropped, Wang Zhao, an analyst at oil industry information consultant Sublime said, speaking before Friday’s data release. That “theoretical margin” is up from 759 yuan a ton in March, he said. 

Meanwhile, the monthly average capacity utilisation rate at teapot refiners rose to a record 73 percent in April, according to data tracked by Sublime.State-backed refiners have pushed up crude oil processing rates to around 79 percent in May, according to estimates from consultancy Longzhong Information Group, close to January’s 82 percent level before extensive movement restrictions were imposed to prevent the coronavirus spreading. The statistics bureau also reported that China’s oil output in April rose to 15.87 million tons, up 0.9 percent from the same month a year earlier. Over the January-April period, China pumped out 64.44 million tonnes of crude oil, up 2 percent on the year. Natural gas output expanded 14 percent last month to 16.1 billion cubic meters (bcm), the bureau reported, while January-April production grew 10 percent to 64.4 bcm.

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