By Firat Kayakiran & Bill Lehane at Bloomberg
China, the world’s second-biggest crude consumer, may be poised for another increase in imports after the number of supertankers bound for the Asian country’s ports rose to a 16-month high amid signs it’s stockpiling.
There were 83 headed to China, the most since December 2014, according to a ship-tracking snapshot compiled by Bloomberg on Friday. Assuming standard cargo sizes, they would be able to deliver about 166 million barrels.
China is hoarding crude at the fastest pace in at least a decade, filling inventories at a time when oil futures remain about 60 percent below where they were just two years ago. The nation added 787,000 barrels a day to stockpiles in the first quarter, the most for the period since at least 2004 when Bloomberg started calculations based on customs data. Its imports climbed in March from countries including Iran, Venezuela and Brazil.
“We’ve seen crude buying in recent months coming from a very broad range of sources, more coming from Latin America and more from Europe,” said Richard Mallinson, an analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. Shipments are being boosted by so-called teapot refineries and may also be advancing in preparation for the end of refinery maintenance programs in China, he said.
Operating rates at teapot refineries in eastern Shandong province rose to about 52 percent in the week to April 22 as two plants completed maintenance and restarted production, according to industry website Oil.chem.net, which surveys 32 of the refineries.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 4.7 percent last week and was trading at $44.62 a barrel at 11:16 a.m. in London. It plunged to as low as $27.10 in January, before rallying amid signs that oil output growth is being curbed and as producer nations touted the possibility of freezing their output.
The vessels en route to China will deliver about 4 million barrels a day based on standard cargo sizes of 2 million each and the range of dates when they’re due to arrive. Its total imports in March jumped to 32.6 million metric tons, or about 7.7 million barrels a day. The ships monitored are called very large crude carriers, the industry’s biggest. China also receives supplies by pipeline and on smaller tankers.