SINGAPORE: China will ramp up gasoline exports in July and August to near record levels with cargoes moving to Mexico and Nigeria as refiners seek outlets for their fuel amid a wave of new production and slowing domestic demand.
The surge in Chinese shipments will fill a supply gap caused by refinery outages in the United States and the Middle East but are likely to accelerate a plunge in Asian gasoline margins, which have dropped 50pc since July 12, when they clawed back to a three-month high.
China’s refineries, led by PetroChina Co, the country’s second-largest, will export about 1.5 million tonnes of gasoline a month in July and August, said two senior traders with knowledge of China’s gasoline exports. That is up from June exports of 1 million tonnes and near the record of 1.69 million tonnes exported in March, according to Chinese customs data.
The export surge is a result of the start up of two large-scale refineries owned by Hengli Petrochemical and Zhejiang Petrochemical that will each add about 4 million tonnes per year of new gasoline output when fully operational.
The surge will reverse the trend of falling gasoline exports in 2019, for the first half of 2019 they are down 9pc from the same period a year ago.
“Gasoline was overflowing (in China) as Hengli shocked the market…companies took the advantage of stronger demand in Latin America and West Africa,” said one of the traders.
PetroChina was granted gasoline export quotas of 4.7 million tonnes in the second batch of quotas issued in May, more than half of the quotas given. As a result, the company is placing cargoes to Mexico, Chile and Nigeria, according to the traders.
“Gasoline surplus in China is exacerbated by slowing demand growth, given weakening consumer confidence as the trade war continues, reflected also in slumping car sales,” said Michal Meidan, director of the China energy programme at Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.
Chinese refiners have loaded 1.2 million tonnes of gasoline for export as of July 23, after a record 1.6 million tonnes in June, according to data from Refinitiv.
One PetroChina-run plant, West Pacific Petrochemical Corp, sold 900,000 barrels of gasoline to Mexico in July, in three different shipments.
DECLINING AUTO SALES
China’s refiners have tried to lower the so-called diesel/gasoline production ratio to produce less diesel and more of the motor fuel, causing the excess of gasoline, said Wang Yanting and Shi Linlin, analysts at Shandong-based consultancy JLC.
The shift in production was aimed initially at easing the overhang of diesel as demand for the industrial and truck fuel has fallen amid a slowing economy.
Top refiner Sinopec, for example, squashed that ratio to a historic low to 1.01 in the first quarter this year, versus 1.33 in the same period in 2015, according to company reports.
As a result, China’s gasoline output in the first half of 2019 rose 2.9pc from a year earlier while diesel dropped 7.8pc, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Gasoline demand growth is also sliding as Chinese automobile sales, consisting mainly of petrol-consuming passenger vehicles, fell for a 12th month in June, with 2019 annual sales set to fall for the second year in a row.
Seng-Yick Tee, senior director at consultancy SIA Energy, forecasts China’s gasoline demand to rise 5.4pc this year, the slowest pace since 2015, as the falling auto sales reduce consumption.
As a result of the petrol glut, plants that make mixed aromatics, petrochemicals used to raise the octane rating in gasoline, in eastern China’s Shandong province have closed.
Shandong-based consultancy JLC estimates about 30 plants with annual output of 5 million tonnes have shut for months this year as demand for mixed aromatics has declined.
“Our plant was losing money in a big way…We wish we had shut down earlier,” said a mixed aromatics plant manager in the city of Zibo, Shandong, which has closed its 8,000 barrels per day facility since March.