• Slowdown enters oil track: Oil consumption, imports decline

    The oil sector seems to be latest addition to the list of sectors facing stress due to the ongoing economic slowdown. For the first time in many months, both oil demand and imports have witnessed a sharp fall indicating that the poor health of the economy has now begun impacting a sector where the country has to rely a lot on imports.

    As per the latest Oil Ministry data, crude oil imports decreased by 13.4 percent and 2.2 percent during June 2019 and April-June 2019 respectively as compared to the same period of the previous year. During the first quarter as well, the country’s oil demand was lower by 0.2 percent than that a year ago with the fall sharper in June at 1.7 percent.

    Though the slowdown in oil imports in a country that spends its foreign exchange to buy crude oil should be welcomed, yet it is reflective of the poor demand scenario that has slowed oil imports by refineries.

    The refineries are using their inventories to meet domestic supplies of petroleum products rather than buying additional quantities of crude oil from overseas even though buying at this juncture would be beneficial with international crude prices at a low of $64-65 a barrel.

    “It is surprising that oil imports have fallen when global prices are stable and low. This means that consumption has declined and demand is not picking up. The sector has begun to feel the pain of an economic slowdown that several of the consuming industries such as automobiles are already facing,” said an executive of Indian Oil Corporation asking not to be named.

    Though it is difficult to derive a conclusive relationship between oil imports/sales and economic activity, analysts are unanimous that the current contraction is the result of a slowdown. Otherwise, sales of petroleum products should not have fallen when per capita consumption has been growing.

    As per the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) of the Oil Ministry, except for petrol (10.8 percent) and diesel (1.4 percent), sales of industrial, aviation and kitchen fuels have fallen.

    Total LPG consumption recorded a de-growth of 7.1 percent during June 2019 and a cumulative de-growth of 1.5 percent during April-June 2019, even though the government’s Ujjwala scheme is fast expanding the reach of cooking gas to the remotest corners of the country. Even kerosene consumption registered de-growth of 17.2 percent in June 2019 compared to 12.1 percent de-growth in June 2018.

    All is not good on the oil exports front as well with exports of petroleum products decreasing by 11.4 percent during June 2019 as compared to the same period of the previous year. A decrease in petroleum product exports during June 2019 was due to decrease in all exports.

    Production of petroleum products too saw a de-growth of 9.3 percent and 2.4 percent during June 2019 and April-June 2019 respectively as compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.

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