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Russia extended its lead over Saudi Arabia as top crude supplier to China to six straight months in August. Russia supplied 1.046mn b/d, whilst Saudi Arabia – near-undisputed number one as recently as 2015 – supplied just 861,000 b/d. On a three-month-moving-average basis Saudi supplies are at their lowest level since early 2014. Indeed for five of the last six months, including August (977,000 b/d), rival Opec producer Angola has bested Saudi for second place.
But not only are Chinese imports from Saudi Arabia down in August, those from Russia and overall import volumes are also down (see chart, p16).
Total Chinese crude imports were 8.014mn b/d, the lowest figure this year, though still 5% up on the 2016 average of 7.61mn b/d. This magnitude of gains, as opposed to the 14% year-on-year growth implied by China’s 8.53mn b/d January-July 2017 imports, is much more in line with third party estimates of Chinese oil demand, given slowing economic growth (around 6.5% for 2017) and falling energy use per unit of GDP. First half 2017 imports appear to have been boosted by buying for China’s strategic oil reserve (MEES, 1 September).