China’s Saudi Oil Imports Surge to All-time High

China’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia nearly doubled in May from a year earlier to all-time high as refineries snapped up cheap fuel, while the kingdom retained its position as the top supplier to the world’s biggest oil buyer.

Arrivals from Saudi last month reached 9.165 million tonnes, or 2.16 million barrels per day (bpd), up about 95% from 1.11 million bpd in May 2019 and up 71% from 1.26 million bpd in April, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Chinese refineries have cranked up throughput to meet a recovery in fuel demand, but have also been increasing crude storage to take advantage of cheap prices after the coronavirus pandemic roiled global demand.

Energy consultancy Kpler estimated China’s crude storage has reached an all-time high of 782 million barrels, with the country’s total capacity 61% full.

China’s overall crude oil imports jumped 19.2% in May from a year earlier to the highest monthly level on record, data released earlier this month showed, as demand for fuel recovered strongly after the easing of coronavirus curbs.

In May, Chinese refineries received their first crude cargo from the United States since November, of around 550,000 tonnes, the customs data released late on Thursday showed.

China is set to import a record amount of U.S. crude oil in July, Refinitiv data showed, as cargoes bought by bargain hunters during the depths of the price rout in April get delivered.

Russian shipments last month rose to 7.71 million tonnes, or 1.82 million bpd, up from 1.75 million bpd in April and 1.5 million bpd over same period last year.

Amid tight U.S. sanctions, China shied away from imports from Venezuela and shipments from Iran were near record lows, data showed.

Below are details of imports from key suppliers.

Country May (tonnes)
 y/y % change Jan-May (tonnes)
y/y % change
Saudi Arabia 9,164,983 94.9 36,276,523 20.8
Russia 7,707,716 21.3 35,983,837 17.8
Iraq 6,962,504 54.7 27,178,178 41.5
Oman 3,243,765 -1.8 15,335,328 12.4
Angola 2,926,383 -21.4 16,633,435 -20
Malaysia 1,006,532 -27 7,210,039 120
Iran 256,813 -76 1,006,532 -90
U.S. 549,839 -3 549,839 -59.2
Venezuela 0 0