"China's crude oil imports and refinery throughput continued to grow last month, albeit at a slower pace," said Calvin Lee, Platts senior writer, China. "More importantly, demand appears to have dropped another notch last month, contributing to rising inventories."
Chinese refiners processed a combined 38.47 million mt of crude oil in May, or an average of 9.1 million b/d, equating to a 7.5% increase year over year.
Tasked by the central government to maintain adequate supplies of refined products in the local markets, domestic refineries continued to run at a rapid pace last month in a bid to prevent any oil shortages in the country. Yet, May's throughput was only marginally higher than April's crude runs at 9.09 million b/d.
With China refineries experiencing very low or negative margins, the Chinese companies are not well motivated to process more crude to meet the potential diesel demand surge, industry consultancy FACTS Global Energy said in a brief earlier this month.
In the meantime, net product imports last month were only 930,000 mt, or an average of 0.21 million b/d. Thus, net imports in May were the lowest this year, reflecting the fact that Chinese companies' appetite for imports has ebbed due to high prices in the global markets.
According to an estimate released earlier this month by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's consumption of refined products in May grew 5.2% year on year to 20.19 million mt. But consumption was down 28,000 mt from April.
Coupled with increased production, the May drop in consumption helped to boost inventories and oil product stocks at month's close were one million mt greater than a year ago, the country's top economic planning agency said in its monthly industry report.
A month ago, NDRC reported that consumption of oil products in April grew at a faster pace of 8.3% year over year to 20.4 million mt. Oil product inventories at the end of April were 450,000 mt more than a year earlier.
In a separate report earlier this month, the NDRC said China's state-owned oil majors Sinopec and PetroChina held in storage by late May more than 13 million mt of refined products, a level which the NDRC termed as a "reasonable level."
"A recent supply crunch appears to have dissipated for now. But it could be a different story if power shortages worsen, forcing industrial users to fall back on diesel power generators, and peak summer demand for transportation fuels cause another tightening in supply," Lee said.