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India's crude imports rebound in August on strong demand outlook

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(Reuters) - India's crude oil imports rose to a three-month peak in August, rebounding from a near one-year low hit in July, as refiners stocked up to boost runs in expectation of higher demand around the festival season.

Crude oil imports last month rose 15.8% versus July and were also 3.1% higher than a year-ago at 17.39 million tonnes, data on the website of the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) showed on Friday.

Last month's increase in imports came despite a monthly fall in domestic fuel consumption and refiners' crude oil throughput dropping to its lowest in 10 months in August.

"Imports likely rose in anticipation of higher demand over the fourth quarter with refiners needing to increase throughput," said Natixis commodities strategist Joel Hancock.

India's Reliance Industries Ltd, the operator of the world's biggest refining complex, shipped in 7.6% more oil in August compared to July and imported a record 312,000 barrels per day of U.S. oil last month, according to preliminary tanker data from shipping and industry sources.

Refiners in Asia's third-largest economy are gearing up to alter their crude oil import mix in favour of lighter grades that yield more gasoline to meet a surge in demand for the motor fuel.

Gasoline demand could hit a new record this year in India as easing COVID-19 curbs boosts business and leisure travel.

"If the pandemic stays under control and oil demand keeps rising, India's crude imports are still expected to trend higher over the coming months and quarters," said UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

Oil product imports gained 17% from a year earlier to 3.85 million tonnes and exports were up about 4.6%. Of the 4.80 million tonnes of exports in August, diesel accounted for 2.60 million tonnes.

Asia's third-biggest economy imports and exports refined fuels as it holds surplus refining capacity.

(Reporting by Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)

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