Saudi crude oil exports to China rose 43 percent on the year in April to an average 1.53 million bpd versus 1.07 million bpd in April 2018 as independent refiners continued buying more.
At 6.3 million tons for the full month, Saudi oil made up the largest share of crude imports into China, displacing Russian oil, whose intake during the reporting period was 6.12 million tons or 1.49 million bpd. Still, Russian oil imports also marked an increase: in April 2018 these averaged 1.35 million bpd.
According to customs data cited by Reuters, Chinese refiners also increased their purchases of Iranian crude last month ahead of the expiry of sanction waivers. The average daily intake of Iranian oil was almost 790,000 bpd or 3.24 million tons for the whole period.
Increased imports of Saudi crude will continue this month, again thanks to higher demand from independent refiners. One of these, Hengli Petrochemical, will account for the largest increase as it ramps up operations at its brand new 400,000-bpd refinery in the Northeast to capacity.
As Reuters reported earlier, Hengli alone is expected to buy 6-8 million barrels of Saudi oil this month, which translates into 194,000-258,000 bpd. According to a company executive, after May, the average intake of Saudi crude by the independent refiner will decline to 4-6 million tons.
Meanwhile, Chinese refiners are shunning U.S. crude amid the latest escalation between Washington and Beijing. Chinese oil traders and refiners no longer want to sign long-term supply agreements with U.S. producers, the chief executive of Enterprise Products Partners said last week.
At the same time, Beijing has increased refined oil product export quotas to about 50 million tons since the start of the year. Average processing rates hit a record earlier this month, at 12.68 million bpd and, according to CNPC, this will be the average processing rate for 2019.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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