China – the ‘new normal’
Over the past decade, China has become a key driver of global oil demand growth. As China’s GDP growth increased at double-digit rates, oil demand growth increased by an average 0.5 mb/d between 2003 and 2012. Over the same period, China accounted for two-thirds of global oil demand growth. Thus, any changes in China’s energy profile and oil consumption habits can send shock waves through the global oil markets. In 2014, Chinese oil demand increased by 0.27 mb/d (2.7 per cent), broadly on par with 2013’s growth and the slowest pace of expansion in the past two decades. The question is whether 2014 was a blip, or the beginning of a deeper change. In this report, it is argued that 2014 is a harbinger of things to come. As the government moves to rebalance the economy and implements an aggressive environmental agenda, oil consumption in China will become more efficient, leading to slower demand growth rates. Thus, any outsized expectations of Chinese oil demand growth are likely to be disappointed in 2015, and weigh on global crude prices. It is also argued that the structural shift in the Chinese economy heralds not only slower demand growth, but also a change in product demand patterns and the structure of the refining industry, with important implications for global trade flows of crude oil and related products.