* July crude imports 9.66 mln bpd, +14% on yr
* Refining margins improving from losses in June - analyst
* July natural gas imports at monthly high since Jan
* July fuel exports up 20% on yr amid growing surplus (Adds details of gas, fuel trade; analyst comment)
BEIJING/SINGAPORE, Aug 8 (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports in July rose 14% from a year earlier while exports of refined fuel surged 20% as recovering profit margins prompted refiners to ramp up production that at the same time contributed to a growing fuel glut.
Arrivals of crude oil last month were 41.04 million tonnes, equivalent to 9.66 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Thursday.
That compared with 9.63 million bpd in June and marked the highest processing rate in three months, though still 9% below the record rate hit in April.
China, the world’s biggest oil importer, brought in 285.64 million tonnes of crude in the first seven months of 2019, or about 9.84 million bpd, up 9.5% on the same period last year, the data showed.
“Utilisation rates at refineries are picking up as they have started to see profit margins coming out of the red in recent weeks,” said Wang Zhao, head of crude oil research at Sublime China Information Co, in comments ahead of the data release.
Independent refiners, often known as teapots, were losing between 300 yuan to 350 yuan ($49.73) on each tonne of crude oil they processed in June, their largest loss in nearly four years.
Overall margins were even in July, with diesel products posting a profit of as much as 300 yuan a tonne, offsetting losses on gasoline, analysts said.
Profits have been buoyed by factors including strong demand from miners for diesel as they churn out growing volumes of coal.
Meanwhile, newly launched refineries owned by Hengli Petrochemical Ltd and Zhejiang Petrochemical, and plants under Sinopec and PetroChina returning from planned maintenance outages have also helped boost crude oil demand in China.
The customs data showed China exported 5.49 million tonnes of oil products in July, up 20% from a year earlier, as refiners continued to move surplus products overseas.
Exports for the January to July period reached 38.01 million tonnes, up nearly 9% from the same period last year.
Total natural gas imports, including gas piped from central Asia and Myanmar and liquefied natural gas shipped in tankers, were 7.89 million tonnes in July, the highest since January, according to the customs data.
That was up from 7.38 million tonnes a year earlier, and up from 7.52 million tonnes in June.
$1 = 7.0378 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing and Chen Aizhu in Singapore; editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell