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Saudi Arabia kept its status as China’s top oil supplier in April, beating Russia for the eighth month in a row as the world’s largest oil buyer imported the lowest crude volumes since December.
According to Chinese customs data on Thursday cited by Reuters, Saudi Arabia sent 1.57 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to China last month, the lowest Saudi monthly volume since October 2020. Yet, the world’s largest oil exporter continued to be China’s top crude supplier, eking out ahead of Russia’s deliveries which averaged 1.53 million bpd in April.
Chinese imports from the United States also dropped in April, but China wasn’t importing any U.S. crude in April last year, the customs data showed.
The decline in shipments from key suppliers was in line with the drop in China’s overall crude oil imports in April, which were below 10 million bpd, down by 0.2 percent compared to April 2020.
Last month, Chinese crude oil imports fell to their lowest levels since December 2020, to 9.82 million bpd, data showed earlier this month. China had slowed down buying because of rising oil prices which were pressuring refining margins amid growing fuel inventories.
To compare, China imported 11.69 million bpd in March, up by 21 percent on the year. In early April, analysts expected a slowdown in oil imports as refiners started seasonal maintenance. Higher oil prices were also expected to discourage a rebound in oil buying in April by Chinese refiners and traders.
Still, China’s refinery throughput increased by 7.5 percent annually in April, signaling a sustained recovery in crude processing, although the volumes were lower than the record-highs seen last November.
Higher oil prices and the possibility that strategic reserves are close to capacity suggest that China’s accelerated crude oil stockpiling could be coming to an end, analysts say.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com