South Korean oil demand fell y/y for the fourth straight month in October, by 0.12 mb/d to 2.47 m/d, as crude prices peaked at over $85 per barrel in early October before retracing. Gasoline demand was substantially lower y/y at 0.18 mb/d (-35 thousand b/d y/y). But we expect domestic gasoline consumption to pick up in the coming months as the South Korean government has cut retail taxes on transport fuels by 15% for six months from 6 November. Naphtha demand fell y/y by 0.15 mb/d to 1.17 mb/d, as heavy cracker maintenance (0.13 Mt) weighed on demand. Although propane demand was down y/y by 7 thousand b/d, propane imports jumped y/y by 34 thousand b/d to 0.16 mb/d, ahead of the start-up of the Lotte Chemical’s 0.2 Mtpy propane cracking expansion by year-end. Diesel demand fell y/y by 47 thousand b/d to 0.40 mb/d, while jet demand rose y/y by 4 thousand b/d to 0.11 mb/d.
Refinery runs fell y/y in October by 93 thousand b/d to 3.10 mb/d. Product exports rose y/y by 0.27 mb/d to 1.60 mb/d, led by a 0.12 mb/d y/y increase in diesel exports to 0.60 mb/d amid strong regional diesel cracks. Product stocks were 1.0 mb lower y/y. Crude oil imports were up y/y by 18 thousand b/d to 3.15 mb/d, led by Iraq, resulting in a 1.7 mb m/m build in crude stocks. South Korea has received a waiver from the US on Iranian oil imports, allowing it to resume imports of South Pars Condensate (SPC). The waiver reportedly allows up to 0.2 mb/d of imports and has been granted for 180 days. South Korea imported 0.24 mb/d from Iran (largely SPC) in the year-to-August, down from 0.41 mb/d in the same period in 2017. Iranian imports remained at zero in October and are unlikely to resume until January as negotiations with Iran are ongoing.