* Dec crude imports rise to record 8.57 mln bpd
* Shipments grow by 910,000 bpd in 2016, strongest on record
* Imports set to grow by about 600,000 bpd in 2017 - analyst
* Dec fuel exports surge to record on domestic oversupply
(Adds Dec data, comment, writes through)
By Chen Aizhu
BEIJING, Jan 13 China's crude oil imports jumped
to a record high in December as refiners stepped up purchases
ahead of a possible OPEC deal to cut supply and bolster prices,
and as more independent refiners won import permits.
Exports of refined fuel also surged to a new high as the
country's giant state refiners shipped more product offshore in
the face of a growing domestic surplus, adding to pressure on
Asian refining margins.
Crude imports hit 36.38 million tonnes in December, data
from the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed, or
8.57 million barrels per day (bpd). This was up 9 percent from
November and well above the previous record of 8.04 million bpd
set last September.
China's December imports also exceeded the 8.09 million bpd
imported by the United States in July, its highest level for
2016 to date, according to data from the Energy Information
For calendar 2016, China's crude imports reached a record
high at 381 million tonnes, up 13.6 percent or by 912,000 bpd
over 2015, marking the strongest annual growth by volume on
record, market analysts said.
"My gut feeling is that the joint cut by OPEC and non-OPEC
in early December stirred up strong interest from refiners and
traders to bet on higher prices, particularly from those
independent refiners which have not exhausted the usage of quota
at the time," said Harry Liu, oil analyst with consultancy IHS.
The hefty increases in imports were driven primarily by a
new group of importers, independent oil plants also known as
"teapots", which were allowed into the market in late 2015 in a
bid to encourage more private participation in the oil sector.
Higher imports were also due partly to declining domestic
crude oil production as dominant state oil and gas majors shut
down high-cost wells because of weak global oil prices.
Independent refiners are expected to buy more oil this year
on a view that Beijing will provide import quotas to more teapot
plants while keeping quotas steady for existing importers, a
move that should help erode the global supply glut.
Seng Yick Tee, a researcher with consultancy SIA Energy,
said he expected China's crude imports to rise by 600,000 bpd in
2017, with teapots accounts for two-thirds of the increase.
Exports of refined oil products exports last month rose
nearly 25 percent on a year earlier to a record 5.35 million
tonnes, topping November's previous record of 4.85 million
Fuel exports for the whole of 2016 rose a third year-on-year
to 48.3 million tonnes, while imports were down 6.5 percent at
27.84 million tonnes, as refinery output far exceeded fuel
demand growth at home.
A decision by Beijing to scrap teapots' fuel export quotas
will see the country's state refiners dominate the export scene,
while teapots divert more of their surplus barrels to state-run
(1 tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil)
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Meng Meng; Editing by Richard