China’s June crude oil imports rose 27 percent on year, customs data showed on Monday, putting the world’s second largest economy into contention again for topping the United States as the biggest buyer of the commodity on international markets.
China imported 29.49 million tonnes, or 7.176 million barrels per day (bpd) in June, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, up 31 percent from a 19-month low in May as demand remains strong amid weak global oil prices.
The June imports may have surpassed those of the United States for the second month this year, depending on the rate used for converting tonnes to barrels.
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that U.S. crude imports in the four weeks to July 3 totalled 7.165 million bpd, although the data has not yet been compiled into monthly reports for May and June.
China has been taking advantage of oil prices that are half of last year’s peak to fill its strategic reserves, analysts say, helping to support crude benchmarks that are still under pressure from a global supply glut.
Fresh concerns about oversupply have pushed Brent crude prices down more than 15 percent over the past two months from a peak near $70 a barrel in early May, the highest point for the benchmark this year.
China’s crude imports were up 7.5 percent in the first half of 2015 to 6.59 million bpd, still behind U.S. imports of about 7.2 million bpd for the year so far, according to EIA figures.
In purchasing more oil than what it needed for its refineries, China accumulated an implied surplus of roughly 41 million barrels in the first five months of the year, according to a Reuters analysis of Chinese government data.
The surplus, which is only a rough estimate of how much oil is available to fill the reserves, was at 82 million barrels at the same time last year.
Analysts have said that China’s surplus purchases have been going into both strategic and commercial storage tanks, although the government rarely releases any details.
China’s appetite for crude is expected to pick up in the second half of the year as new storage tanks are finished.
Beijing has also been opening its crude imports to buyers outside the state-owned sector, and independent refiners with new import allowances may push up shipments.
The June import volumes came in higher than an earlier estimate by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts of 26.87 million tonnes. July imports are forecast to fall about 2 million tonnes from June’s actual volumes.
China also imported 3.10 million tonnes of refined oil products in June and exported 3.06 million tonnes, leaving net fuel imports at 40,000 tonnes. Net imports were at 1.01 million tonnes in the first half.