By Bharat Gautam
(Reuters) - India's crude oil imports in October climbed from last year as consumption in the world's third-largest oil consumer and importer continued its rebound toward pre-pandemic levels, government data showed on Tuesday.
Imports rose 11.1% to 17.09 million tonnes from the same month a year earlier, according to data on the website of the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell. But imports were down slightly at about 3% versus September.
The relatively high imports corresponded with the country's fuel consumption hitting a seven-month peak during the same month, with gasoline sales surging to an all-time high, as festivals boosted mobility and economic activity.
Demand has rebounded faster than anticipated, as economies bounce back quicker from the impact of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns, lifting India's imports and exports, said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.
While India's monthly crude oil imports have been higher than the relatively low base of their corresponding 2020 levels for most of this year, they have yet to rise past the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
Oil product imports jumped about 28% to 4.10 million tonnes from a year earlier and exports climbed 38%.
Of the 5.30 million tonnes exported in October, diesel continued to hold a major share at 2.89 million tonnes.
"Rising diesel and gasoline exports are in line with rising refinery runs. If prices do not fall despite the release of strategic stocks, domestic demand could suffer, which could lead to more exports, as long as the rest of the world remains free of COVID-19," said Ehsan Ul-Haq, an analyst at Refinitiv.
India holds surplus refining capacity and exports refined fuels as well.
India said on Tuesday it will release 5 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves in coordination with other buyers including the United States, China, Japan and South Korea, as major consumers battle rising inflation.
(Reporting by Bharat Govind Gautam in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Paul Simao)