China’s oil imports from Russia rises to a record level in May


Inspection officers check a tanker, carrying imported crude oil, at the port in Qingdao, China. Reuters

China’s crude oil imports from Russia soared 55 per cent from a year earlier to a record level in May, displacing Saudi Arabia as the top supplier, as refiners cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

 Imports of Russian oil, including supplies pumped via the East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline and seaborne shipments from Russia’s European and Far Eastern ports, totalled nearly 8.42 million tonnes, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.

That’s equivalent to roughly 1.98 million barrels per day (bpd) and up a quarter from 1.59 million bpd in April.

The data, which shows that Russia took back the top ranking of suppliers to the world’s biggest crude oil importer after a gap of 19 months, indicates that Moscow is able to find buyers for its oil despite western sanctions, though it has had to slash prices.

And while China’s overall crude oil demand has been dampened by COVID-19 curbs and a slowing economy, leading importers, including refining giant Sinopec and trader Zhenhua Oil, have stepped up buying cheaper Russian oil on top of sanctioned supplies from Iran and Venezuela that allows them to scale back competing supplies from West Africa and Brazil.

Saudi Arabia trailed as the second-largest supplier, with May volumes up 9 per cent on year at 7.82 million tonnes, or 1.84 million bpd. This was down from April’s 2.17 million bpd.

Customs data released on Monday also showed China imported 260,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil last month, its third shipment of Iran oil since last December, confirming an earlier Reuters report. Despite US sanctions on Iran, China has kept taking Iranian oil, usually passed off as supplies from other countries.

The import levels are roughly equivalent to 7 per cent of China’s total crude oil imports.

China’s overall crude oil imports rose nearly 12 per cent in May from a low base a year earlier to 10.8 million bpd, versus the 2021 average of 10.3 million bpd. Customs reported zero imports from Venezuela.

State oil firms have shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling foul of secondary US sanctions. Imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the last two years for oil originating from Iran and Venezuela, amounted to 2.2 million tonnes, steady versus April but more than double the year-earlier level. Imports from Brazil fell 19 per cent from a year earlier to 2.2 million tonnes, as supplies from the Latin American exporter faced cheaper competition from Iranian and Russian barrels. Separately, data also showed China’s imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) amounted to nearly 400,000 tonnes last month, 56 per cent more than May of 2021.

For the first five months, imports of Russian LNG – from mostly Sakhalin-2 project in the Far East and Yamal LNG in Russian Arctic – rose 22 per cent on the year to 1.84 million tonnes, according to customs data.

Meanwhile the China stocks closed up on Monday even as banks kept their lending benchmarks unchanged, with real estate developers leading the gains as property sales recovered after supportive measures buoyed demand. The blue-chip CSI300 index rose 0.5 per cent to 4,330.43, while the Shanghai Composite Index was almost unchanged at 3,315.43 points.

The Hang Seng index rose 0.4 per cent to 21,163.91, while the China Enterprises Index gained 0.4 per cent to 7,399.60 points.

China stood pat on its benchmark lending rates for corporate and household loans, as expected, on Monday, with global central banks’ rate increases making it tough for Beijing to stimulate a weak domestic economy by lowering rates.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the removal of some tariffs on China, two top officials said on Sunday.

The CSI300 Real Estate Index gained 3.1 per cent, while the Hang Seng Mainland Properties Index jumped 6.5 per cent.

Nomura said property sales across 30 cities recovered quickly last week, with four top tier cities recording 20 per cent-30 per cent volumes higher than a year ago, and second-tier cities 30 per cent on average. New energy firms added 1.7 per cent, and tourism rose 3.5 per cent.

However, energy shares tumbled 5.8 per cent, with coal miners down 6.4 per cent. A fire killed one person at a Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Co plant in Shanghai on Saturday, sending the company’s shares down 2.4 per cent. “With the effects of pro-growth policies emerging, expectations of an economic recovery kept rising, elevating the attractiveness of A-shares to global investors,” said Chen Mengjie at Yuekai Securities.


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