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China oil imports likely to rise more in second half: Clyde Russell

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Some of China's top refineries plan to raise crude runs by about 4 percent in 2013. (Reuters) Some of China's top refineries plan to raise crude runs by about 4 percent in 2013. (Reuters)
SummarySome of China's top refineries plan to raise crude runs by about 4 percent in 2013.

form of lower imports of fuel oil and higher exports of diesel that would be enough to offset a likely decline in gasoline exports.

Fuel oil imports may decline as small refineries, known as teapots, are allowed to import crude directly, while increased refinery runs will boost the diesel surplus.

Rising vehicle sales will boost gasoline demand and maybe by more than the increased refining capacity, thereby cutting the surplus of the motor fuel available for export.

In addition to higher refinery runs on units that were operating by the end of last year, China is likely to add more capacity in 2013.

PetroChina's Sichuan complex is slated to add 200,000 bpd by the end of the first quarter, and Sinochem and Sinopec may add another 340,000 bpd between them by the end of the year.

However, for the bulk of this year, it's only the PetroChina facility that is likely to boost crude imports, and then probably not even by as much as the full 200,000 bpd capacity.

However, building up inventories for the new refining capacity will also serve to boost crude demand over the year.

Another X-factor is strategic storage, with some second stage facilities due for completion in 2013.

It's by no means certain that even if the tanks are ready, that China will decide to lift imports to fill them, but it's nonetheless an upside risk to crude demand, especially for the second half.

Putting together what is known and speculating on what's likely, and a picture emerges of additional imported crude demand of at least 300,000 bpd in 2013, but more likely closer to 400,000 bpd.

This will meet the planned increase in refinery runs, which is turn will meet the gain in actual demand from higher economic growth.

If oil is bought for strategic storage, it will most likely be in the second half, meaning demand may rise more in that period than in the first half.

(Clyde Russell is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.)

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