China's oil product exports are likely to stay strong in the second half of 2016 after rising to close to record highs in June as new independent refiners prepare to join the bandwagon and state-owned oil giants sit on large volumes of unused export quotas.
Several independent refiners including Chambroad Petrochemicals, Luqing Petrochemical, Wonfull Petrochemical and Lihuayi Group plan to start oil product exports in the second half of the year.
Chambroad, Luqing, Wonfull and Lihuayi have a combined 255,000 mt of export quotas.
In addition, Sinochem Quanzhou won an oil product export quota of 2.55 million mt in the government's third round of quota allotment -- more than the 2 million-mt quota it received in the first two rounds, indicating its ambitious export plan.
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At the same time, the state oil giants Sinopec and CNPC hold sufficient quotas to raise their exports going forward.
Including quotas awarded in the third round, Sinopec now has a total export quota of 21.2 million mt -- more than double the 10.3 million mt quotas it won over the first three rounds in 2015.
CNPC has 13 million mt awarded in the first three rounds, up 68% from the 7.75 million mt in last year.
Over January to May, China exported 3.35 million mt of gasoline, 5.49 million mt of gasoil and 4.78 million mt of jet fuel.
This represents only 31%, 35% and 32% of the respective quotas for the products granted so far this year.
RECORD VOLUME OF EXPORTS EXPECTED
According to preliminary trade data released last week by China's General Administration of customs, China exported 4.22 million mt of refined products in June, close to the record high of 4.32 million mt achieved in December last year.
The June export volume was up 38% year on year and up 10.5% from May.
Oil product exports in the first half of the year has risen 45.3% year on year to 21.5 million mt.
The big jump in exports was attributed to the historical high refinery throughput of 11.01 million b/d in June.
The increase could be attributed to independent refiners raising throughput by 30% from the same month last year.
Refineries under state-owned oil giants have also boosted operating rates in June, by five percentage points from May, according to a S&P Global Platts survey.
At the same time, demand for oil products including gasoline, jet fuel and gasoil was hit by heavy rainfall in central, eastern and western China, leaving extra barrels available for export.
The fact that the June export volumes are close to December's record high has analysts convinced that exports will set new record highs in the second half of 2016.
December is traditionally when exports peak in China as refiners try to use up all the leftover export quotas for the year.
Moreover, it is a busy season for shipping out goods for Christmas and the New Year, which leads to higher bunker fuel sales to international vessels, which are categorized as exports by GAC.
"Given the exports in June has been close to the historical high in December last year, there should be no doubt that the monthly exports in H2  will rise higher to break the record," a Shanghai-based analyst said.
Platts China Oil Analytics expects the country's gasoline exports to rise 40% year on year to 8 million mt in 2016. Jet fuel exports will jump 75% to 14 million mt and gasoil will surge 80% to 13 million mt.
CRUDE IMPORTS STABLE
China imported a total 30.62 million mt, or 7.48 million b/d, of crude oil in June. It was the lowest monthly level since January, when imports were at 26.69 million mt. The volume was however up 3.8% year on year.
"This indicates that Chinese buyers are cooling down from the import wave that started in February, and we expect inflows to China would be quite steady in the coming months," the Shanghai-based analyst said.
Lower imports by the independent refineries in Shandong have weighed on the total volume.
The group received around 4.2 million mt of imported crude oil in June, 1.34 million mt lower than May, a monthly survey by Platts showed.
The reduction contributed to a major proportion in the 1.62 million mt month-on-month decline in China's total crude imports in June.
"The surge in the last few months is unrepeatable, when the new players [independent refiners] and stock builders took the opportunity of low oil prices to ship in crude oil," the analyst said. "The independent refiners are very price sensitive," he added.
Benchmark front-month ICE Brent hit a bottom of $27.74/b on January 21 at 4:30 pm Singapore time (0830 GMT), close of Asian trade, but has since recovered.
Meanwhile, many of the import quota holders have used around two-third of their quota.
However, imports would be buoyed by new quota holders and stocking demand as new storage becomes available to receive inflows.
There are around nine refineries waiting for a total of about 30 million mt/year (602,000 b/d) crude oil import quota in the second half of the year.
Chinese independent oil company CEFC's 2.8 million cubic meter (17.6 million barrels) storage started receiving crude oil in early July.
Meanwhile, construction of Sinochem's 31.35 million-barrel Zhoushan II strategic petroleum reserve in east China's Zhejiang province is also expected to be completed this year.
--Oceana Zhou, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Mriganka Jaipuriyar, email@example.com, and Irene Tang, firstname.lastname@example.org