Japan's crude oil imports fell 19% on year to 2.74 million barrels per day in May, according to customs data. It was first time that the country's crude oil imports slipped below 3 million bpd level since 1969.
Reduction of crude oil distillation capacity and the seasonal maintenance seem to cause the sharp drop of procurement. Crude oil processing in Japan fell 3.7% and 3.3% from a year ago in April and May, then it shrunk by 15% on year during the first three weeks in June. However, there has not been reported a lack of petroleum products in the market.
Japanese oil companies consolidated their refining facilities following the Energy Efficiency Law that was enforced in 2009. They cut about 400,000 bpd of crude oil throughput capacity in 2010, then reduced further 500,000 bpd until the dead line of the consolidation that was set at end of March this year.
In Japan, petroleum demand was predicted to increase to make up for nuclear power supply outage since 2011. But actually total crude oil imports by the nation has not increased despite additional demand from the power sector.
Even demand for thermal power generation has sustained Japan's petroleum demand despite declining fuel consumption in transportation sector that is affected by fuel-efficient vehicles, it could not boost the total crude oil imports.
Meanwhile, growth of electricity demand has been usually negative in Japan after 2011 due to power saving and change of the industrial structure. Although relatively high industrial activities supported power demand in February and March this year prior to the consumption tax hike on 1st April, reaction against that depressed the growth rate to about 2% per annum of decrease in April and May.
If Japanese oil companies reduce their crude oil procurement by 400,000 bpd (about 80% of scrapped capacity since mid-2013), the nation's trade deficit could decrease by 1.6 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) per year.
On the other hand, Japanese power companies have bought additional 17 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas for thermal power generation after 2011. It roughly costs about 1.5 trillion yen ($14.8 billion) annually.
Payments for fossil fuels are considered as one of main reasons of Japan's 11.4 trillion yen ($112.4 billion) of huge trade deficits in 2013. However, additional fuel costs to make up for nuclear power outage is not exceeding 2 trillion yen, and it is likely to be offset by reduction of crude oil imports in the near term.