* Jan crude imports off peak but holds above 10 mln bpd
* Gas imports hit record as importers anticipated firmer demand
* Refined fuel exports up 31.6 pct y/y
By Chen Aizhu
SINGAPORE, Feb 14 (Reuters) - China’s crude oil imports in January rose 4.8 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, with refineries building up their stockpiles ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays that fell in early February.
Natural gas imports into the world’s biggest importer of the fuel rose to a monthly record of 9.81 million tonnes, exceeding the previous peak in December of 9.23 million tonnes, as state-run importers hiked volumes in anticipation of increasing heating demand.
China, the world’s biggest crude oil importer, took in 42.6 million tonnes of oil in January, according to the data released by the General Administration of Chinese Customs. That works out to 10.03 million barrels per day (bpd), the third straight month that imports have exceeded the 10 million bpd mark.
January imports are down from the record on a daily basis of 10.43 million bpd in November as independent processors last month reduced procurements because of smaller quota allotments for 2019.
But purchases by new private refiners Hengli Petrochemical and Zhejiang Petrochemical for test operations kept import levels elevated.
Northeast China-based Hengli Petrochemical aims to have all the units at its 400,000-bpd plant operating at full capacity by the end of March.
Gas imports, including piped gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipped in tankers, rose to 9.81 million tonnes last month, up 26.2 percent from January 2018.
Even with high inventories amid a warmer-than-usual winter, China’s LNG imports were expected to hit a record in January as state energy firms pre-arranged shipments in anticipation of stronger demand.
Customs data also showed China’s refined fuel exports rose 31.6 percent in January from the same month last year to 5.42 million tonnes.
State refineries, equipped with higher export quotas, are shipping out fuel in greater volumes and reaching more distant markets.
Sinopec Corp unit Zhenhai Refining & Chemical Corp said on Wednesday that it had exported diesel and jet fuel to Europe for the first time.
For January commodity trade details:
tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude Reporting by Chen Aizhu; editing by Christian Schmollinger