South Korean oil demand rebounded in July, up by 42 thousand b/d y/y, despite rising global (US–China) and regional (Japan–Korea) trade tensions. Growth was led by the petrochemical sector, where LPG demand increased by 51 thousand b/d y/y, followed closely by naphtha (+24 thousand b/d y/y). Both petrochemical feedstocks benefitted from a lighter round of cracker maintenance y/y, with LPG gaining the most on the back of consistently strong cracking margins. Fuel oil demand fell by 24 thousand b/d y/y due to persistent weakness in the bunker fuel segment. Gasoline demand fell by 10 thousand b/d y/y despite retail fuel tax cuts and lower prices m/m at the pump. Diesel demand also fell, by 8 thousand b/d y/y, as the July PMI fell to 47.3, the third consecutive month with a sub-50 reading. We expect oil demand to resume declines as the government announced it would end retail fuel tax cuts on gasoline, diesel and LPG from 1 September.
Refinery runs fell by 0.22 mb/d y/y in July to 2.92 mb/d, but we expect runs in August to be higher m/m on the back of a recovery in margins. Crude imports in July fell by 0.33 mb/d y/y to 2.79 mb/d, underpinned by low Middle Eastern volumes (-0.45 mb/d y/y) for the third straight month and no imports from Iran. These declines were marginally offset by higher imports from the Americas, which continued to increase y/y, up by 0.3 mb/d y/y (versus +0.24 mb/d y/y in June). Product imports rose by 0.11 mb/d y/y in July, driven by higher LPG (+78 thousand b/d y/y) and fuel oil (+22 thousand b/d y/y) volumes. Product inventories fell by 0.15 mb m/m to 62.6 mb in July. Crude stocks also fell, by 4.1 mb m/m to 49.7 mb, due to lower crude imports, but they remained well above the five-year average of 36.5 mb.