China’s Mar crude imports from top supplier Saudi Arabia down 1.6% on year
Saudi Arabia remained China’s top crude oil supplier in March, despite arrivals slipping 1.6% year on year to 1.7 million b/d or 7.21 million mt, the latest data from General Administration of Customs showed.
The year-on-year fall was mainly due to a high base in the same month of last year, which was 1.73 million b/d.
In the first quarter, China’s crude imports from Saudi Arabia jumped 14% to 1.77 million b/d.
GAC releases data in metric tons, which S&P Global Platts converts to barrels using a 7.33 conversion factor. The country’s crude imports from Saudi Arabia in Q1 totaled 21.95 million mt.
As a result, China’s crude imports from the Middle East went up 10.4% to 4.8 million b/d in Q1.
Looking forward, April-loading cargoes from the kingdom was likely to be flat month-on-month despite Saudi Aramco slashed pricing of its crude exports for April, including the biggest cut ever for Arab Light crude by $6/b for Asia in early March.
“We actually want more Arab Medium and Arab Heavy, but only additional barrels of Arab Light and Extra Light were available,” a crude trader with a state-owned oil company said.
As a result, some Chinese buyers in March turned to take sour Russian Urals for April loading, which was competitive. This would help to boost shipments from Russia in the coming month from 1.66 million b/d in March.
US CRUDE IMPORTS
Imports from the US in January-March were zero despite China agreeing to buy an additional $18.5 billion of energy goods on top of 2017 baseline, GAC data showed.
In contrast, China imported 36,100 b/d of US crude in Q1 2017, worth a total $199.97 million, according to GAC data.
The flow was expected to resume in May, with a few independent refineries returning to the market for Mars crude in March when the Chinese government began accepting applications for tariff exemption on US crude.
More Chinese buyers emerged in April to take Alaska North Slope, WTI Midland.
However, the volume was unlikely to be heavy, a Shanghai-based crude oil trader said, “because cheap crudes are everywhere, not just US crudes which are quite light to most of the Chinese refineries.”
Norway’s ranking continued to rise, becoming the ninth top supplier in March from the tenth in January-February.
The Norway shipments surged 3,481% to 306,270 b/d or 1.3 million mt in March as state-owned refineries took more barrels in the month.
About 69% or 890,000 mt of the Norwegian barrels were taken by China’s independent refineries in March, down from 83.2% or 1.79 million mt that the sector took in January-February, S&P Global Platts data showed.
Johan Sverdrup is the most popular new grade from Norway for the refiners. The medium sour crude has an API of 28 degrees and a sulfur content of 0.8%, making it become a competitor to the popular Brazilian Lula.
In the coming months, the surge of VLCC freight in March was likely to cap inflows from Norway.