* Jan crude imports at record high 6.63 mln bpd
* Jan import up 11.9 pct on yr, up 5.1 pct on month
* Record imports vs weak crude runs suggests stocks rising
By Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu
BEIJING, Feb 12 China's crude oil imports rose
11.9 percent in January from a year earlier to a record 6.63
million barrels per day (bpd), data showed on Wednesday, as
companies restocked ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday despite
tepid demand growth.
The high figure could also be due to data distortions ahead
of the week-long break that fell across the first week of
February, as companies tend to advance book cargos that are due
to arrive in early February.
The world's top energy consumer took in 28.16 million
tonnes, or 6.63 million bpd, of oil last month, up 5.1 percent
from the previous record of 6.31 million in December of last
year, according to the General Administration of Customs.
Demand for crude appeared less robust than the imports
indicate as the top two state refiners Sinopec
and PetroChina were
due to process 1.9 percent less oil in January than in December,
according to energy consultancy ICIS C1.
That suggests some of the imports went straight into
storage. China will not release its official throughput data for
the first two months of this year until mid-March.
"Refinery throughput is still kind of weak, this high amount
of arrivals would mean some of the oil has to land in the
tanks," a Beijing-based crude oil trader said.
The higher import purchases also follow a three-month
drawdown in China's commercial crude oil inventories over the
last quarter of 2013.
China's implied oil demand growth dropped to its lowest in
more than two decades in 2013, coming in at just 1.6 percent as
softer economic growth sliced into consumption of transportation
and industrial fuels such as diesel.
Oil markets largely dismissed the record Chinese import
figures, with Brent crude futures holding steady near $109 a
NEW TERM CONTRACTS STARTING UP
State-oil firms had higher-volume term crude contracts
starting up in January with such suppliers as Iraq and Russian
to feed new refineries coming online in the first quarter.
China has boosted its annual purchase of Iraqi crude by more
than two-thirds to 882,000 bpd this year, trade sources said
last year in November.
Russia's top oil producer Rosneft said this month
it would ship an additional 180,000 bpd of oil this year to
China and is continuing talks to further ramp up eastbound crude
Part of the Russian crude will feed PetroChina's $6 billion
refinery and petrochemical complex in Sichuan province in the
southwest, with 200,000 bpd in capacity, company officials have
State-run Sinochem Corp's new refinery, the 240,000 bpd
Quanzhou plant, started test runs from mid-January. The plant is
processing sweet crude from West Africa for test runs before
switching to sour crude from the Middle East once it goes into
normal operation, traders have said.
China's crude oil imports last year rose 4 percent, down
from a 6.8 percent increase in 2012 as demand was hit by a
slowing economy. Crude demand this year could rebound slightly
as new refineries open, although growth may be capped by a lack
of momentum in the broader economy.
China overtook the United States in September as the world's
biggest net oil importer, a trend the U.S Energy Information
Administration said would continue through 2014.
(Editing by Tom Hogue)