China oil imports may slow by over 60%

epa05654691 (FILE) A file photograph showing oil wells pumping oil in an oil field near Ponca City, Oklahoma, USA, 14 November 2007. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided at it's 171st meeting in Vienna, Austria on 30 November 2016 that it will cut supplies for the first time in eght years. The cut of 1.2 million barrels a day will start from January 2017. the Conference decided to implement a new OPEC-14 production target of 32.5 million barrels a day, in order to accelerate the ongoing drawdown of the stock overhang and bring the oil market rebalancing forward.  EPA/LARRY W. SMITH



One of the biggest engines soaking up the world’s oil is starting to sputter. Growth in crude imports by China, the second largest consumer after the US, will probably slow by more than 60 percent in 2017, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts including FGE and Energy Aspects Ltd. Private refiners that helped boost purchases to record levels are expected to be constrained by tighter licenses and increased scrutiny on their taxes. At the same time, the current space available for stockpiles may run out.
While OPEC’s deal to curb output may help erode a glut and lift prices, Chinese imports remain key for any sustained recovery. It’s the biggest buyer in Asia, the world’s top oil market, and its insatiable appetite was a significant driver for crude’s climb to more than $100 a barrel in the past decade. “China has definitely been a huge bright spot for crude demand this year, but it won’t be as substantial next year,” said Michal Meidan, an analyst with Energy Aspects. She predicts the nation’s imports may increase by 5 percent to 9 percent next year, compared with 11 percent to 14 percent growth in 2016.
Inbound shipments into China in the first 11 months of 2016 rose 14 percent to 7.5 million barrels a day, touching monthly records twice, according to customs data. Next year, though, the Asian nation will boost its purchases by just 4.8 percent compared with 2016, according to the median estimate of eight analysts in the Bloomberg survey. Brent crude, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, traded at $53.48 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange by 10:53 a.m. in London. Prices were at more than $115 a barrel in mid-2014. Imports increased as China’s private refiners, known as teapots, started getting licenses to import crude on their own last year in a government push to boost private investment in energy. Previously, the processors relied on state-owned oil majors including PetroChina Co. and Sinopec for supplies.
The refiners have to adhere to an import quota. As of October, the processors have imported 30 million tons of crude, according to Shanghai-based commodities researcher ICIS-China. A total of 17 of them have been granted a combined 67.05 million tons a year, or 1.35 million barrels a day, in quotas to use overseas oil so far in 2016. A dozen others, seeking a total of 23 million tons in allocations, are still in the process of being approved.
While sellers from Saudi Arabia to London-based BP Plc have been readily supplying the teapots, which account for a third of China’s processing capacity, headwinds loom.
The amount of incremental new quotas allocated for private refiners in 2017 may drop “significantly” from 2016, said Pang Guanglian, deputy secretary general of the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation, an industry group that is among reviewers of the allocations.

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