china's record feb. oil imports

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    UPDATE - China crude oil imports hit new record in Feb
    Thursday March 18, 10:07 pm ET
    By Juliana Liu

    (Adds quotes, context, details)
    BEIJING, March 19 (Reuters) - China's crude oil imports hit a new record in February as the world's second-biggest oil consumer slashed exports and ramped up diesel imports to meet strong domestic demand, official data showed on Friday.

    China's crude oil imports for February rose 60.1 percent to 10.5 million tonnes, the General Administration of Customs said.

    "The surge in China's oil imports is stunning," said Dong Tao, a CSFB economist in Hong Kong. "For the time being, China is an added source fueling the increase in oil prices."

    Benchmark U.S. light crude (CLc1) (0#CL:) hit a one-year high of $38.35 a barrel on Wednesday, also bolstered by worries of a potential gasoline supply crunch in the United States and security fears following the Madrid bombings.

    While China's crude imports rose sharply, the country cut crude exports to 434,354 tonnes in February, down 29.8 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed.

    State-run refinery sources and traders have denied rumours the country was quietly storing crude oil for strategic reserves. China had said earlier in the month it would speed up building oil storage tanks for strategic reserves.

    A shortage in gas oil, or diesel, in China since late 2003 led to a cut in February's light diesel exports to 35,695 tonnes, down 77.6 percent from the year-ago period, customs said.

    Diesel is used as a fuel for autos, a new obsession with China's middle class, and for heating, among other uses.

    The squeeze also led China, a net diesel exporter, to boost light diesel fuel imports in February to 125,461 tonnes, up 101.1 percent from the year-ago period.

    It ramped up imports of diesel and other fuel oil to 182,129 tonnes in the month, up 32.9 percent from the year-earlier period, customs figures showed.

    Imports of No. 5-7 fuel oil, used to power electricity plants, rose 90.5 percent to 2.2 million tonnes in February, according to customs. No. 5-7 fuel oil refers to fuel oil with maximum viscosity of 185 centistoke.

    China exported 476,573 tonnes of gasoline in February, down 42.9 percent from the year-ago period.

    China, the fastest-growing major economy in the world, has replaced Japan as the world's second-biggest oil consumer after the United States.

    The International Energy Agency, which monitors the world's energy markets for 26 industrialised nations, said earlier this month that China's oil demand was growing faster than previously expected.

    The IEA said it has nearly doubled its forecast for Chinese demand growth this year to 580,000 barrels per day.

    It said apparent oil demand, the sum of domestic product output and net product imports -- was above six million bpd.

    Last year, China replaced Japan as the world's second-biggest oil consumer behind the United States.

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