Platts Report: China Oil Demand Rose 1.9% in March Versus a Year Ago

Lower Reported Refinery Utilization Rates Due To Seasonal Maintenance Period

Apr 23, 2013, 11:50 ET from Platts

SINGAPORE, April 23, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- China's apparent oil demand* in March  rose by 1.9% to an average 9.77 million barrels per day (b/d) or 41.31 million metric tons (mt), a just-released Platts analysis of Chinese government data showed. This followed a matching year-over-year rise of 1.9% in February to an average 10.19 million b/d.

Apparent demand for oil in March was down 4.2% from February and was the lowest since October, when apparent demand averaged 9.76 million b/d.

Refinery runs, or capacity utilization, fell 2.3% in March versus February to an average of 9.65 million b/d, but were up 5.5% compared to March 2012, according to data released April 15 by China's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

"China's oil refineries in March operated at lower-than-recent utilization rates as they entered seasonal maintenance periods, which will typically extend through the second quarter," said Song Yen Ling, Platts senior writer, China.  "However, this year's refinery turnarounds are on a larger scale than usual, given that many major units were scheduled for broader maintenance or key upgrades in calendar year 2013."

China's General Administration of Customs data released April 21 showed net oil product imports in March totaled 480,000 mt. This marked a 59.3% drop from February and a 74.2% decrease from March 2012.  The decline in net oil product imports was attributed to low seasonal demand, as China's refiners drew from inventories purposely built up in advance of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday in February.

From a quarterly perspective, China's apparent oil demand in the first three months of this year averaged 10.15 million b/d, up 3.5% from the first quarter a year ago. However, the pace of demand growth has eased from Q4 2012, when the year-over-year increase was 7.8% to an average 10.28 million b/d.

"Given that oil demand is so closely linked to industrial production and other macroeconomic performance, the slower oil demand growth in the first quarter 2013 is further evidence of China's lower-than-expected expansion in gross domestic product (GDP)," said Song. "China reported 7.7% GDP growth in Q1, which was below analyst estimates of 8% and down from the Q4 rate of 7.9%."

In terms of China's individual oil products markets, apparent demand for gasoil remained sluggish in March, rising only 1.1% on a year-over-year basis to 14.39 million mt. Meanwhile, China's production of gasoil during the month was 14.79 million mt, up nearly 4% from the prior year.

There was surplus gasoil supply in the domestic market, reflected by net exports of 400,000 mt during March – the highest level in at least two years. Historically, China has tended to be well balanced in terms of gasoil production and use. But the nation has been a net exporter of the fuel for nine consecutive months since last July.

Apparent demand for gasoline continued strong in March, as car sales during the month rose 13% on an annual basis. Domestic gasoline output in March was 8.31 million mt, up 16.9% from March 2012. Meanwhile, gasoline exports were 510,000 mt, or down 1.9% from the prior year. That put apparent demand for gasoline at 7.8 million mt for the month, marking an 18.4% rise versus March 2012. China does not typically import gasoline.

Apparent demand for jet fuel/kerosene last month totaled an estimated 1.64 million mt. This was down 4.8% from March 2012. Meanwhile, production and exports for the fuel increased sharply. March net exports totaled 330,000 mt versus 10,000 a year earlier. Jet/kerosene production rose 13.7% year-over-year in March to 1.97 million mt.


Mar '13

Mar '12

% Chg

Feb '13

Jan '13

Dec '12

Nov '12

Net crude imports (million mt)








Crude production (million mt)








Apparent demand (million mt)








Apparent demand ('000 b/d)









Sources: China's General Administration of Customs, National Bureau of Statistics, Platts

Month-to-month demand in China is generally viewed as subject to short-term anomalies which are of interest and important to note, but which often fail to reveal the country's underlying demand trends. Year-to-year comparisons are viewed by the marketplace to be more indicative of the country's energy profile.

*Platts calculates China's apparent or implied oil demand on the basis of crude throughput volumes at the domestic refineries and net oil product imports, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Chinese customs. Platts also takes into account undeclared revisions in NBS historical data.

The government releases data on imports, exports, domestic crude production and refinery throughput data, but does not give official data on the country's actual oil consumption figure and oil stockpiles. Official statistics on oil storage are released intermittently.

Platts uses a conversion rate of 7.33 barrels per metric ton, the widely-accepted benchmark for markets East of Suez.

Platts releases its monthly calculation of China's apparent demand between the 18th and 26th of every month via press release and via its website. Any use of this information must be appropriately attributed to Platts.

For more information on crude oil, visit the Platts website at For Chinese-language information on oil and the energy and metals markets, visit

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