China buys crude as prices collapse, adding to stockpiles

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China buys crude as prices collapse, adding to stockpiles
In this photo taken Monday, March 16, 2020, tugboats push a 300,000-ton very large crude carrier (VLCC) to a shipyard on the Yangtze River for retrofit in Qidong city in east China's Jiangsu province China. (Chinatopix Via AP, File)
In this photo taken Monday, March 16, 2020, tugboats push a 300,000-ton very large crude carrier (VLCC) to a shipyard on the Yangtze River for retrofit in Qidong city in east China’s Jiangsu province China. (Chinatopix Via AP, File)

(AP) — China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, is building up stockpiles of crude oil as global prices plunge due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Imports rose 4.5% in March over a year earlier even as the world’s second-largest economy shut down to fight the virus and demand collapsed.

For the first quarter of the year imports were up 5%.

The price collapse is battering state-owned oil producers and possibly disrupting official plans to develop the industry but is a boon to Chinese drivers and factories.

It gives Beijing a chance to add to a strategic petroleum reserve that is meant to insulate the country against possible supply disruptions.

“In the midst of all this, China oil imports have been resilient, as low prices have enabled stockpiling,” said Peter Lee, senior oil and gas analyst for Fitch Solutions.

As global prices fell, Chinese importers sent 84 tankers to Saudi Arabia in mid-March, each able to carry 2 million barrels of crude, according to news reports that cited the China Shipbuilding Industry Association.

Low oil prices “have a positive impact on China,” said the ruling Communist Party’s Political and Legal Commission on its social media account.

Still, the plunge threatens to disrupt plans to make China more “energy self-reliant” if state-owned drillers have to cut spending on developing domestic oilfields, said industry analyst Max Petrov of Wood Mackenzie.

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