SINGAPORE/BEIJING, Jan 14 (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports in December eased from a record set a month earlier, but demand growth from new mega-refineries through last year meant 2019’s purchases grew nearly 10% from the year before, data showed on Tuesday.
December arrivals were 45.76 million tonnes, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. That was equivalent to 10.78 million barrels per day (bpd) according to Reuters’ calculations based on the data, second only to the high of 11.13 million bpd touched in November.
For all of 2019, the world’s top crude oil buyer imported 506 million tonnes, or 10.12 million bpd, some 9.5% above 2018’s level.
December imports were boosted by private refiners rushing to use up import quotas they were granted for the whole year, while state plants stocked up on oil before the holiday shutdown that accompanies China’s Lunar New Year festival, which falls in late January this year.
Last year marked the biggest penetration of mega private chemical giants into China’s refining business, after the emergence between 2016 and 2018 of smaller independent oil processors often known as “teapots”.
The arrival of Hengli Petrochemical and Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp - each adding 400,000 bpd in processing capacity focused on chemicals output - boosted China’s crude oil imports notably from Saudi Arabia, helping the kingdom reclaim its title from Russia as China’s top crude supplier.
Meanwhile, natural gas imports, including fuel supplied as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and via pipeline, were 9.45 million tonnes, the third-highest on record on a monthly basis.
Imports for the whole of last year expanded 6.9% to 96.56 million tonnes. (Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)