* First-half imports drop 1.4 pct on year to 5.57 mln bpd
* June imports at 5.39 mln bpd, down 4.4 pct from May
* Expectations had been for rise after April-May maintenance
* June imports up 2.1 pct on year, but lowest in nine months
(Adds comments, rise in 1H imports last year due to SPR
By Judy Hua and Manash Goswami
BEIJING/SINGAPORE, July 10 China's crude imports
fell in the first half of 2013 compared with a year ago, raising
the prospect that slowing growth in the world's second-largest
economy may lead to lower-than-expected global fuel consumption
With oil imports dropping and China warning of a "grim"
trade outlook on Wednesday, the world's second-biggest oil
consumer may not be the buoyant force it has been for oil
markets in the past decade.
"There is most certainly a risk that global oil demand
growth will miss forecasts because of the slowdown in China,"
said Ben Le Brun, an analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.
"And it will be not just oil, but most other commodities.
The global forecasting agencies may have to play a bit of a
catch up," he said.
The International Energy Agency trimmed its oil demand
growth forecast for China in its monthly report in June due to
slowing economic growth, but still expected Chinese fuel demand
to account for nearly half of this year's rise in global
consumption of around 790,000 barrels per day (bpd).
China's crude imports for January to June fell 1.4 percent
from the same period last year to 5.57 million bpd, customs data
showed on Wednesday, with analysts warning China's slowing
economy could drag on oil arrivals the rest of the year.
Inbound shipments were down 4.4 percent from the previous
month on a daily basis at 5.39 million bpd, the lowest monthly
import rate since September of last year.
"If you bring it in line with the recent set of numbers out
of China, the oil import data gives you a picture of softening
demand," said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive of Sydney-based
commodity research firm Barratt's Bulletin.
Imports in January-June are also down from last year because
in the first six months of 2012 China was filling its strategic
petroleum reserves (SPR), said Amrita Sen at Energy Aspects.
Crude imports in the first half of last year rose 11 percent
on the year to 5.62 million bpd, and touched a record 6.0
million bpd in May.
Yet, China's crude imports had been expected to rise this
year as new refineries came onstream, but with fuel demand
weakening as the economy slows, there is no need for these units
to run at full throttle.
In May this year, China's implied oil demand edged up around
1 percent from a year earlier, the lowest rate in nine months,
while the 4.5 percent growth rate in 2012 was the slowest in
The month-on-month fall in June's crude imports dashed
expectations for a rise in imports after Chinese refineries
returned from maintenance in April and May.
China's refinery production has gained a tepid 2.9 percent
in the first five months of the year, while traders said a lack
of new strategic petroleum storage has also contributed to
"Chinese refineries are not running at full rates as fuel
demand in China and from neighbouring countries in Southeast
Asia is not good," said a Sinopec official, who declined to be
named due to company policy.
Existing refineries have refrained from aggressively raising
throughput, and a new refinery operated by PetroChina
, the 200,000-bpd Sichuan plant, delayed its start-up
previously scheduled for mid-April.
"China's oil demand is already not so strong and it has been
partly met by oil products imports, which are pretty strong this
year," said Kang Wu, senior adviser at energy consultancy FGE.
June crude imports were 22.17 million tonnes, or 5.39
million bpd, up 2.1 percent from the same month a year ago, the
customs data showed.
China's oil demand is expected to grow to 9.96 million bpd
in 2013, up 3.75 percent from 9.6 million bpd last year,
according to the IEA.
(Addtional reporting by Florence Tan and Jessica Jaganathan in
Singapore; Editing by Tom Hogue and Simon Webb)