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China Scooped Up Record Volumes of Russian Oil In March

China scooped up record volumes of crude oil imports from Russia in March, adding 790,000 barrels per day to its stockpiles, up from 570,000 bpd in January and February, Reuters’ Clyde Russell reported on Thursday, citing official Chinese import data. 

Beijing’s efforts to boost its strategic stockpiles is simultaneously skewing the country’s oil demand picture, with record imports of Russian oil contributing to a false picture of the country’s overall demand, Russell notes. 

First-quarter numbers for the year show a 670,000 bpd increase in inventory. 

According to Russell, the data masks weaker Chinese crude imports for Q1 2024, which came in at 11.02 million bpd, compared to 11.06 million bpd for the same quarter of last year. 

“The picture that emerges from the first quarter is that China's demand for imported crude oil was virtually flat, and that refiners are still boosting stockpiles even as prices start to increase,” Russell wrote. 

On Tuesday, oil prices rose following the release of new economic data for China showing strong GDP data, which is typically bullish for oil prices. Despite that GDP data, other economic indicators such as retail sales, industrial output and real estate investment showed weak domestic oil demand compared to forecasts. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that Chinese oil demand will grow by 500,000 bpd this year, declining to 300,000 bpd next year. By comparison with other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, China, which last year accounted for 80% of OECD demand growth, is expected to see that share shrink to 43% this year and to 27% next year. The agency sees a gradual easing of demand, based on Chinese economic growth flagging and "the rapid domestic uptake of oil-substituting technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs) and high-speed rail."

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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