Sinopec net profits soar on oil price rises

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China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec Group), Asia's largest oil refiner by capacity, is expected to report a more than 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) net profit in 2010, as surging oil prices pushed up its performance in the upstream sector.

The oil conglomerate's 2010 net profit may have grown by about 60 percent year-on-year, Moneyweek reported on Monday, citing anonymous sources close to the matter.

Huang Chunsheng, a spokesman for Sinopec Group, declined to comment on the figure, saying "it isn't ready to be released".

A-shares of Sinopec Corp, the listed arm of Sinopec Group, rose by 1.15 percent to end at 8.8 yuan on Monday in Shanghai - while the major index dropped 0.72 percent.

Sinopec Group said in December that its 2010 sales were estimated at 1.96 trillion yuan, up 41 percent from 2009, rising on increased demand for oil products. Its assets were forecast to rise by 7.9 percent year-on-year to reach around 1.5 trillion yuan last year.

"The oil price hikes last year have largely boosted the company's performance, and the economic recovery that pushed up domestic demand also led to robust sales in its refinery and petrochemical sectors," said He Wei, an analyst at BOCOM International Holding Co.

The price of oil reached $79.45 a barrel in 2010, up 28.4 percent from 2009, as the global economy continued to pick up and the dollar depreciated, according to a China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) research note.

There's consensus in the market that China's top three oil companies - Sinopec, CNPC, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation - would report better-than-expected results as oil prices kept increasing last year, after being hit by the financial crisis in 2009.

The major oil consuming industries, such as the auto sector, have seen a surge in sales, leading to a leap in domestic oil demand, said Dai Jiaquan, deputy director of CNPC's Research Institute of Economics and Technology. Apparent oil demand - which consists of domestic output and net imports, but excludes stockpiles - grew by 11.4 percent from 2009 to 455 million tons last year.

Sinopec Group's domestic crude oil output increased by 8.3 percent in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) to reach 425.6 million tons in 2010, while oil processing volume reached 212 million tons, a 38.6 percent increase, during the same period, and ethylene production reached 9.19 million tons.

However, analysts are cautious about Sinopec Group's strong performance continuing, because its deep reliance on the overseas market for oil makes it vulnerable to fluctuations in international oil prices.

Sinopec's domestic crude oil output might increase by not more than 1 percent in the next few years, said Rui Dingkun, an analyst with China Jianyin Investment Securities in Beijing. "Consequently, its oil output growth will depend mainly on the overseas market," Rui said.

If oil prices continue to surge in 2011, the government's adjustment for the price of finished petroleum products may lag far behind international price increases, which could cut into the gross profit of the company's refining sector, BOCOM International's He said.

CNPC projected earlier that the average oil price in 2011 could rise above $90 a barrel.

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