Does Slowing Oil Demand Mean a Slowing Chinese Economy?

Platts Report: China Oil Demand Contracted 2.1% in November versus a Year Ago

China’s apparent oil demand* in November fell by 2.1% to an average 9.9 million barrels per day (b/d) or 40.88 million metric tons (mt) versus year-ago data, according to a Platts analysis of China’s latest government data.

The November average marked the second time this year that China’s apparent oil demand has contracted, following a 2.3% year-over-year decline in September.

The dip in apparent oil demand last month was due to relatively lower refining activity. Crude oil processing by refineries, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics on December 10, was down 0.6% versus a year ago to an average 9.81 million b/d.

Oil product imports in November were 2.82 million mt, down 19.4% from a year ago. Oil products exports were 2.11 million mt, slipping 1.9% from November 2012. This resulted in net oil product imports of 710,000 mt, a 47.4% decrease from a year ago, according to General Administration of Customs data.

“The negative growth in November reflected still-subdued economic activity in China, particularly as industrial production in the country showed slower growth,” said Song Yen Ling, Platts senior writer for China. “Based on Platts’ calculations, gasoline was the only product among China’s major fuels that saw an increase in apparent demand in November.”

Apparent demand for gasoline totaled 8.03 million mt in November, a year-over-year increase of 3.8%. Domestic output rose an annual 3.3% last month to 8.33 million mt, while exports slipped 9.1% to 300,000 mt. Traditionally, China has not been an importer of gasoline.

Apparent demand for gasoil totaled 14.39 million mt in November, a 2.3% drop from November 2012 and the third straight month of decline. Gasoil — used in the heavy transport and industrial sectors – accounts for the largest proportion of all oil products consumed in China. However, demand for gasoil has ebbed this year, mirroring the nation’s economic slowdown. There were no imports of the fuel last month.

Gasoil output in November fell 2.5% from year-ago levels to 14.6 million mt. Exports fell 30% year over year to 210,000 mt.  Despite being relatively lower than a year ago, gasoil outflows were still higher than the third-quarter average of 90,000 mt, driven in large part by new export quotas for state refiners in the fourth quarter.

Fuel oil apparent demand plunged 23.9% versus a year earlier to 2.68 million mt. Output fell 4.2% versus last November to 2.16 million mt. Net imports slid 59.1% to 520,000 mt on the back of a 29.3% drop in imports to 1.47 million mt. Meanwhile, exports of fuel oil rose 17.3% from a year ago to 950,000 mt.

“We are increasingly seeing more crude oil being used by independent ‘teapot’ refiners in eastern China,” said Song. These refiners have the capability to crack both straight-run fuel oil and crude oil, depending on availability of feedstock.

For the first 11 months of 2013 China’s apparent oil demand averaged 9.81 million b/d, a 3% increase from a year ago and greater than the 2.2% expansion in apparent oil demand for the same period in 2012 versus 2011.


Nov ’13 Nov ’12 %
Oct ’13 Sep ’13 Aug ’13 Jul ’13
Net crude imports (million mt) 23.46 23.25 +0.9 20.30 25.61 21.22 25.94
Crude production (million mt) 17.28 17.22 +0.3 18.07 16.88 17.3 17.17
Apparent demand (million mt) 40.88 41.76 -2.1 41.59 39.55 39.82 41.52
Apparent demand (‘000 b/d) 9,988 10,203 -2.1 9,834 9,663 9,416 9,817

Sources: China’s General Administration of Customs, National Bureau of Statistics, Platts

Month-to-month demand in China is generally viewed to be subject to short-term anomalies which are of interest and important to note, but which often fail to reveal the country’s underlying demand trends. Year-to-year comparisons are viewed by the marketplace to be more indicative of the country’s energy profile.

*Platts calculates China’s apparent or implied oil demand on the basis of crude throughput volumes at the domestic refineries and net oil product imports, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Chinese customs. Platts also takes into account undeclared revisions in NBS historical data.

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