China imported around 2.02 million mt of LPG in October, the highest in the past 17 months, the latest data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
October LPG imports were up 38.6% from September and 27.2% from a year ago, the data showed. LPG demand from household users typically rises from October, which was believed to have encouraged some buying interest from Chinese LPG importers, market sources said.
The profitable processing margin at China’s propane dehydrogenation plants was believed to have also supported their imports of propane feedstocks, market sources said.
Oriental Energy, one of the major LPG importers and operator of PDH plants in China, brought in around 451,000 mt of LPG in October, up more than 32% from 341,000 mt seen in September, according to shipping fixtures from JLC, a Chinese information provider.
China’s PDH plants have theoretically enjoyed a processing margin of around Yuan 2,000/mt ($287.9/mt) since August, according to S&P Global Platts calculation. These PDH plants maintained their operation rates relatively high at an average of 87% in September and 84% in October, Platts reported earlier.
Platts calculates China’s LPG imports by adding the propane and butane figures to those for “other LPG” under HS code 7111990, aiming to reflect China’s imports of liquefied gases more accurately.
According to the customs department, the definition of “other LPG” is a complex combination of hydrocarbons produced by the distillation of crude oil.
Market sources said it could be mixed gas containing many hydrocarbons, and was mainly imported or exported on trucks. Imports and exports of “other LPG” are much lower than propane and butane. Separately, China imported 1.43 million mt of propane in October, up 38.1% from September and 15.8% higher year on year. Butane imports were 573,870 mt in October, up 41.6% from September and 69.3% higher year on year.
LPG imports from the UAE saw a significant growth in October, up 85% from September to 841,930 mt last month.
Industry sources said that volumes from the UAE probably included cargoes from Iran because China has been the main buyer of LPG from Iran, but the volumes were not reflected in China’s public data.
Iranian shipments were 524,000 mt in September, most of which were destined for China, according to shipping sources.
However, LPG imports from the US were almost zero in October and September due to the ongoing trade war between the two countries.
In the first ten months, China imported around 1.6 million mt of LPG from the US, down 41% from around 2.7 million mt in the same period of last year.
The US was the second-largest LPG supplier to China in 2017, with volumes totaling 3.5 million mt of propane and butane, accounting for 19% of the country’s total LPG imports, the customs data showed.