India's Oil demand shrinks further as coronavirus crisis persists

Lockdown in Mumbai. Photo: Bloomberg
India’s oil demand worsened in the first half of May as large parts of the nation remained under local lockdowns to battle the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19.

Sales of road transport fuels during May 1-15 dropped by a fifth from the previous month and about 28 per cent from the same period in 2019, according to people familiar with preliminary data from the country’s three biggest retailers.

Average daily sales of gasoline -- used in cars and motorcycles -- fell to about 53,300 tons, the lowest in a year. Sale of diesel -- the country’s most-used fuel and a proxy for economic health -- dropped to a seven-month low of 147,300 tons a day during May 1-15.

The plunge in consumption at the world’s third-biggest crude consumer will weigh on sentiment on oil prices and damp expectations for a strong global demand rebound in the summer. The International Energy Agency has lowered its 2021 global oil demand forecast from the impact of the raging virus outbreak in India, while OPEC and its allies are already taking a cautious view.

India has become the current global epicenter of the pandemic and the virus is spreading rapidly from urban centers to rural areas, where about 70 per cent of country’s 1.3 billion population live.

More than 300,000 daily infections are reported since April 22, straining the health system and overwhelming crematoriums and hospitals, and forcing bulk of Indian states to stay in lockdown.

The strict stay-at-home orders are constraining the movement of people, lowering fuel sales and curbing crude processing by refineries to manage its rapidly-growing stockpiles.

Spokespeople for Indian Oil Corp., Bharat Petroleum Corp., and Hindustan Petroleum Corp., declined to comment. The three retailers account for more than 90 per cent of the nation’s fuel sales.

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