China overtakes US to become world’s top crude importer
March imports stood at 9.17 million barrels per day (bpd), according to the General Customs Administration. In February, China imported 8.286 million bpd, an earlier record of 8.57 million bpd was set in December.
The increase in Chinese oil imports may be explained by larger purchases by independent domestic refiners which received a new quota in mid-January.
"This rush of buying were mostly for March arriving cargoes. In our case, the amount of crude oil we bought for March exceeded the total for the first two months," said a trading manager with Shandong Dongming Petrochemical Group, China's largest independent oil processor, as quoted by Reuters.
"The 9.2 million bpd of crude imports is definitely a shocking number. That means China built close to 1.7 million bpd of crude inventory in March, way off the chart from any perspective," said Harry Liu, an analyst with consultancy IHS Markit.
IHS expects a drop to eight million bpd in the next few months.
At the same time, China is producing less crude than it used to. For January and February, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics posted an overall combined output of 31.44 million tons, or 230.455 million barrels, down eight percent year-by-year. The decline was linked to oil field depletion and the higher production costs associated with it.
Oil was trading flat on Friday. Brent benchmark was at $55.89 per barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate was trading at $53.18 per barrel.