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SINGAPORE: China’s crude oil imports in September rose from the previous month but stayed 2% below their level a year earlier, data showed on Monday, as independent refiners curbed throughput amid thin margins and lackluster demand.

The world’s largest crude importer brought in 40.24 million tonnes of crude oil last month, equivalent to about 9.79 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data from the General Administration of Customs that was released a week behind schedule.

The September imports compared to 9.5 million bpd in August and nearly 10 million bpd a year earlier.

Imports for the first three quarters totalled 370.4 million tonnes, or about 9.9 million bpd, 4.3% below the corresponding period last year.

This marks the first annual decline for this period since at least 2014.

China’s fuel demand took a hard hit as Beijing’s drastic COVID-19 curbs stifled travel and manufacturing activities.

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While state refineries have mostly returned from outages and planned maintenance, independent refiners, which make up about one-fifth of China’s crude oil imports, have continued to hold down production. “The sentiment is very low.

Margins are not good, plants were not motivated to increase runs,“ a Singapore-based trading executive with an independent refiner in eastern China said ahead of the data release.

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