Japanese oil demand rose m/m by over 0.4 mb/d to 4.74 mb/d in December, although this was less than the usual seasonal upswing and so demand was lower y/y by 0.26 mb/d, the steepest decline since September 2013. This is partly a result of the exceptionally high 2012 base, and also because warmer than usual weather has dampened demand for heating purposes. Indeed, although kerosene demand reached 0.59 mb/d, the highest since Q1 13, up m/m by 0.18 mb/d, the seasonal upswing was 0.1 mb/d less than the five-year average. Similarly, although LPG, fuel oil and diesel demand were also up m/m by an average of 50 thousand b/d, they were all lower y/y. Moreover, the continued switching away from oil towards coal led to fuel oil demand falling sharply y/y by 0.11 mb/d to 0.41 mb/d and crude burn by 78 thousand b/d to 0.24 mb/d. However, a broadly improving economy and strong regional petrochemical demand led naphtha to outperform yet again, up y/y by 84 thousand b/d to 0.88 mb/d, the highest since February 2011. With some weather forecasts pointing to a colder than usual spring, kerosene demand is likely to get a boost in the coming months, and together with the bulk of the coal substitution now being behind us, Japanese demand should be broadly flat y/y in 2014, in our view.
Japanese refinery runs jumped m/m by 0.27 mb/d to 3.7 mb/d, a 10-month high, on the completion of seasonal maintenance and rising kerosene and gasoil output ahead of the winter months. But subdued demand resulted in higher regional exports of diesel, picking up m/m by 50 thousand b/d. With margins weakening and a heavy turnaround season coming up, we expect Japanese crude runs to fall to 3.55 mb/d in Q1 14. Crude imports also rose by 0.15 mb/d m/m to 3.87 mb/d, a nine-month high, with imports from Iran doubling m/m to 0.17 mb/d.