China's March refinery throughput fell for a second straight month after reaching a record high in January due to the end of spring planting season and as domestic refiners began a period of heavy maintenance.
China processed 38.37 million metric tons of crude oil in March, up 2% from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed Friday.
The crude runs, equivalent to 9.07 million barrels a day, were 2.6% lower than February's 9.32 million barrels a day, according to Dow Jones Newswires calculations.
More than a dozen refineries are slated for heavy maintenance in the second quarter, Shandong-based consultancy Chem99 said.
PetroChina Co.'s (PTR) 400,000-barrel-a-day Dalian refinery--its largest by capacity--will overhaul two units from end-March to April, halving capacity, a company official said.
China's run rates at the end of March fell to 82.2%, down slightly from two weeks earlier, a survey of 35 refineries by Oilchem showed. Oilchem said China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (SNP), known as Sinopec, and PetroChina, the country's largest oil companies, processed a combined 30.3 million tons, or 7.2 million barrels a day, in March.
The slip in March crude runs corresponded with an on-month decline in China's crude imports. The country imported 23.55 million tons, or about 5.57 million barrels a day, in March, preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs showed Tuesday. Imports hit a record 5.98 million barrels a day in February.
Meanwhile, March crude runs remained underpinned by the tail end of spring planting season, with many domestic refineries boosting output of gasoline and diesel to ensure steady supplies. Sinopec said it increased diesel and gasoline production at its refineries in Tianjing, Yangzi, Maoming and Wuhan in the first quarter. The four refineries have a combined processing capacity of about 930,000 barrels a day.
Chinese refiners may process less crude in April than in March as even more refineries begin planned maintenance. Still, monthly crude throughput will likely continue rising from year-earlier levels due to strong domestic demand and as more refineries come online--adding an estimated 900,000 barrels a day to overall capacity in 2012, according to J.P. Morgan analysts.