BEIJING: China’s oil refinery throughput rose in March as refiners stepped up runs amid signs of a tentative economic recovery in the world’s second largest consumer of crude.

Total refinery throughput was 63.78 million metric tons, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Tuesday.

That was equivalent to 15.09 million barrels per day (bpd), up from 14.45 million in the January-February period.

Run rates were 1.3% higher than the figure of 14.9 million bpd last March, a record at the time, as refiners stockpiled fuel ahead of scheduled maintenance.

China’s crude imports slipped 6.23% in March on the year to stand at 11.55 million bpd.

Though a protracted property crunch has been a major economic headwind, manufacturing activity surprised to the upside last month.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) expanded for the first time in six months in March, buoyed by higher export orders.

Domestic transport fuel demand got a boost from the brief Qingming festival travel period in early April. Car trips over the holidays rose 52.3% year-on-year to 683 million from a year earlier, state news agency Xinhua said.

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Nonetheless, sluggish diesel demand amid weaknesses in the mining and infrastructure construction sector capped runs, industry consultancy Vortexa said ahead of the data.

Crude throughput last month was forecast by Vortexa to rise by about 200,000 bpd, accompanied by an increase of roughly 2.5 million barrels in onshore crude inventories.

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