BEIJING/SINGAPORE China's February crude oil imports jumped 20 percent on year to their highest ever on a daily basis, as prices at their lowest in more than a decade drove buying from a group of new importers and state and commercial stockpiling.
The world's second-largest oil consumer imported 31.80 million tonnes of crude last month, or a record 8.0 million barrels per day (bpd), data from China's General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday.
China's robust crude demand has been supported by independent refiners, also known as teapots, that have been receiving import quotas from Beijing over the past nine months.
"This is the teapot effect," said Virendra Chauhan, an analyst at Energy Aspects in Singapore.
"Higher teapot demand and stronger refining margins which encouraged higher refinery throughputs have contributed to increased imports," he said.
On a daily basis, February's imports also jumped roughly 27 percent from 6.29 million bpd in January.
Last week, Beijing-based consultancy SIA Energy said it expects China's 2016 crude imports to rise by 860,000 bpd, or nearly 13 percent, boosted by storage needs, robust gasoline demand and fuel exports.
The country's top energy group state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) forecast in January that the China's net crude imports would rise 7.3 percent this year.
China's imports reached a previous record of 7.81 million bpd in December, closing out 2015 with an average 6.71 million bpd, according to customs data for the full year.
The February volumes were more than a million bpd higher than the final estimate by Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts, which had expected more deliveries to spill over into March. March imports are forecast by the Thomson Reuters analysts at under 7 million bpd.
Fuel exports in February rose 71.8 percent on a daily basis compared to the same month last year, reaching 2.99 million tonnes, or 721,700 bpd, after hitting a record 975,500 bpd in December, as China continues to export more diesel amid weakening domestic demand for the industrial fuel.
Net fuel exports were 350,000 tonnes in February.
(1 tonne of crude oil=7.3 barrels)
(1 tonne of refined fuel=7 barrels)
(Reporting By Adam Rose in BEIJING and; Florence Tan in SINGAPORE; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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