Japanese oil demand in October was pegged at 3.799 mb/d, higher m/m by 91 thousand b/d, with the rate of y/y declines easing to 0.167 mb/d and smaller than the year-to-October decline rate of 0.2 mb/d. The improvement came despite record summer temperatures easing and with all of Japan's nuclear plants remaining offline. Crude burn fell y/y by 56 thousand b/d (22.3%) to 0.197 mb/d, while fuel oil burn was lower y/y by 0.13 mb/d (28.9%) at 0.32 mb/d. Both were substituted to some degree by coal burn, which remained elevated, higher y/y by 25.8% according to data from Japan's top-10 utilities. Given that Japan posted its biggest October trade deficit on record on spiraling imported fuel costs (with a weaker yen weighing), we expect the trend of increasing coal usage at the expense of fuel oil to continue in 2014. In other parts of the barrel, gasoline demand fell to 0.935 mb/d, lower y/y by 33 thousand b/d, while LPG demand was pegged at 0.412 mb/d, lower y/y by 29 thousand b/d. Other than jet fuel and diesel, the main bright spot was naphtha, which was higher y/y by 62 thousand b/d at 0.768 mb/d, supported by an improving macroeconomic backdrop, which has continued into November with the manufacturing PMI increasing to 55.1 vs. 54.2 in October, the highest since July 2006.
Japanese refinery runs fell in line with our expectations by 0.24 mb/d m/m to 3.042 mb/d, their lowest level in a year on a heavy maintenance schedule. However, October is likely to have been the low point, with refiners expected to increase output, particularly of kerosene, in order to meet heating demand in the winter months. In line with lower refinery runs, imports fell to their lowest level since June 2011 at 3.186 mb/d, lower y/y by 0.1 mb/d, with imports from Iran falling to the lowest levels since April at 0.13 mb/d.