The apparent rise in China’s crude oil imports has been a major factor behind the doubling of oil prices in the last year. Yet a detailed analysis by Petromatrix illustrates that reality is a little different from the headline:
• China has been importing more oil, as its new refineries come online (alongside its new petchem capacity).
• But domestic oil demand has not been increasing at the same level.
Petromatrix estimate that China’s “refinery runs are growing at double the pace of Chinese oil demand growth“. The result is shown in the above graph, which shows how China has “turned into a significant exporter of oil products” in recent months.
There is no doubt that China’s own demand has grown over the past year. But Petromatrix’s analysis suggests the underlying picture is more complex. When this will be recognised by oil markets is an open question. In the meantime, other Asian refiners are clearly paying the price for China’s refinery expansion.