BEIJING: China's oil consumption in 2013 experienced the slowest rise in five years, data showed on Monday, because of easing economic growth but the pace is expected to accelerate this year as new refineries start up.
Implied oil demand in the world's second-largest user rose 1.6% last year, or 150,000 bpd on the year, according to Reuters calculations based on preliminary government data.
China's oil consumption is a key factor in determining oil prices and has driven global demand growth for most of the past decade. Its slowing demand growth has capped prices that would have otherwise soared on the plunge in exports from Iran, prolonged outages in Libya and disruptions in Sudan.
The 1.6% growth lagged an IEA forecast for 2013 oil demand growth at 3.8%, but was in line with a forecast by the country's top oil firm China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) which last week pegged 2013 oil demand at 1.7%.
Diesel demand, the main driver for oil consumption in recent years was sluggish last year, while gasoline use rose 8.2%, CNPC analysts said in a briefing last week.
CNPC has forecast China's oil demand growing 4% this year, with demand for gasoline being the main factor.
Government data showed that in December, implied oil demand was 10.06 million bpd, down 7.5% from a record high 10.88 million bpd a year earlier, but up 1.2% from November's 9.94 million bpd. Full-year consumption was 9.78 million bpd.
Implied demand is a combination of crude oil throughput and net imports of refined oil products. It ignores stocks changes, which are seldom disclosed by the government.
In its December report, the IEA estimated Chinese oil demand at 10.19 million bpd in 2013, up 370,000 bpd from 2012. The agency has forecast a similar, modest growth for this year at 3.7 percent to 10.57 million bpd.
China's annual growth eased to 7.7% in the fourth quarter as investment and demand flagged late in the year, and analysts say it could cool further in 2014 as Beijing focuses on rebalancing the economy and other major reforms.
That leaves growth in the Chinese economy at 7.7% for all of 2013, unchanged from revised levels in 2012.
China's refinery throughput rose just 0.2% in December over a year earlier, and grew 3.3% for the whole of 2013, data showed on Monday, slower than the previous year as less new refining capacity was added.
Refineries processed 42.02 million tonnes, or 9.9 million bpd, of crude oil in December, the National Bureau of Statistics said. Daily runs were around 1.3% higher than November's 9.77 million bpd.
Crude runs for the whole of 2013 expanded 3.3% at 478.58 million tonnes, or 9.57 million bpd, the statistics bureau said. That compared with 3.7% growth for 2012.
CNPC forecast last week China's crude runs to rise 5.1% to 509 million tonnes, or 10.18 million bpd, this year from 2013.
Two new refineries, owned separately by PetroChina and Sinochem Corp, and with a combined capacity of 440,000 bpd, are slated to open in the first quarter.
The two plants will provide most of China's additional demand for crude imports this year.
Sinochem said on Friday it started test runs at the Quanzhou plant last week, though it could take months for the 240,000-bpd refinery to go into commercial operation.
In December, net fuel imports fell 55% to 167,100 bpd. Net imports of refined fuel fell 28.8% to 212,500 bpd in 2013 – Reuters.