Japanese oil demand fell by 0.18 mb/d y/y to 2.98 mb/d in July amid weakening regional trade activity as a diplomatic spat erupted between Japan and Korea. Gasoline led the declines, with demand down by 67 thousand b/d y/y, despite a m/m decrease in pump prices to $1.34 in July (-$0.10 m/m). Fuel oil followed closely, down by 62 thousand b/d y/y, due to sustained weakness in the bunker fuel segment. Direct use crude demand also fell, by 34 thousand b/d y/y, as low LNG prices and the start-up of five nuclear reactors over the past year continue to displace the use of crude oil in power generation. Flat cracker maintenance y/y and improved margins boosted naphtha demand, which rose by 22 thousand b/d y/y. Despite favourable LPG cracking margins, demand for the product fell by 38 thousand b/d y/y given the limited flexibility of Japanese crackers. Diesel demand rose by a modest 11 thousand b/d y/y as the July PMI edged up by 0.1 m/m to 49.5, but was still in contractionary territory.
Refinery runs rose by 0.14 mb/d y/y in July to 3.02 mb/d on the back of lower refinery maintenance (-21 thousand b/d y/y) and improved margins. Crude imports rose again in July, by 0.15 mb/d y/y to 3.1 mb/d, driven by higher volumes from the UAE (+0.12 mb/d y/y), Qatar (+76 thousand b/d y/y) and the US (+60 thousand b/d y/y). Japan continued to adhere to US sanctions in July, lifting no volumes from Iran (-0.18 mb/d y/y). Product imports fell by 52 thousand b/d y/y, driven mainly by a fall in naphtha volumes (-38 thousand b/d y/y). Crude stocks rose by 1.5 mb m/m to 84 mb though were still below the five-year average of 91.8 mb. Product stocks also rose, by 3.9 mb m/m, driven almost entirely by a 3.4 mb m/m build in fuel oil stocks.