BEIJING, May 8 (Reuters) - China's daily crude oil imports in April rose 3.7 percent from a year earlier and rose 3.5 percent from a month earlier, customs data showed on Wednesday, as refiners took advantage of lower prices to replenish crude oil stocks.
China, the world's largest crude buyer after the United States, shipped in 23.08 million tonnes, or 5.62 million barrels per day (bpd), of crude oil last month, up from 5.42 million bpd the same month a year ago and 5.43 million bpd in March.
'Crude oil stocks fell quite a lot over the past half a year because of high crude runs. Refiners could start to replenish stocks when oil prices were relatively low,' said a Beijing-based oil analyst with an investment bank.
The price of Brent crude fell to around $102 a barrel at end-April from around $110 a barrel at the beginning of the month, dipping below $97 along the way.
Over the first four months of the year, crude oil imports still fell 0.9 percent, partly due to a high base of first-quarter 2012 imports but also reflecting weaker demand amid concerns about the pace of China's economic recovery.
China's commercial crude inventories rose 2.2 percent by the end of March versus a month earlier, marking the first rise in six months, newsletter Xinhua OGP reported in April.
China's refined fuel stocks fell 1.8 percent by the end of March from a month ago, the first drop in seven months as refiners stepped up exports amid sluggish domestic demand, it said.
Top Asian refiner Sinopec will cut its crude runs in the second quarter to 58.3 million tonnes (4.68 million bpd), down from 59.8 million tonnes (4.8 million bpd) as originally planned, due to high stocks, energy consultancy ICIS C1 said last month.
China cut its retail prices of gasoline and diesel by more than 4 percent from April 25, the first change under a new pricing mechanism more tightly linked to the cost of crude.
The more flexible system was expected to help avoid shortages and tame consumption of the world's second-largest oil user. The scheme in theory should raise refiners' profits and entice them to process more crude, which should lift imports.
China's oil product exports were 2.67 million tonnes in April, while oil product imports were 3.89 million tonnes, leaving net oil product imports at 1.22 million tonnes, the customs data showed.
(Reporting by Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Richard Pullin) Keywords: CHINA CRUDE/IMPORTS
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