Indian gasoline sales rose for the first time since the nation imposed one of the world’s strictest virus lockdowns in late March, a positive sign for global oil markets amid a stalling energy demand recovery.
Sales at India’s three biggest fuel retailers climbed 2.2% in the first half of September, the first year-on-year increase in six months, according to preliminary data from officials with direct knowledge of the matter.
The uptick in gasoline sales in the world’s third-largest oil importer is a welcome development for a global market that’s been forced to push back expectations for when energy demand might get back to pre-virus levels. Indian sales of diesel, the most widely used petroleum product in the country, are still down around 6% from a year earlier, however.
An easing of virus restrictions is leading to increased use of personal vehicles as people return to their offices, the officials said, asking not to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak to media. India has now relaxed most of its stay-at-home restrictions, despite a continued rise in infections, after the economy contracted by almost a quarter in the three months through June.
Greater use of personal vehicles to avoid the risk of getting infected on public transport has been reflected in rising sales of cars and two-wheelers, which mainly run on gasoline. Car sales in India rose 14% in August from a year earlier, while two-wheeler sales increased by 3%.
Indian Oil Corp. Chairman Shrikant Madhav Vaidya said this week there are signs of a demand recovery, but the pandemic’s impact could linger and monthly consumption may edge back to pre-virus levels by the end of the year.
Gasoline sales rose 7.1% on a month-on-month basis, while diesel sales jumped 19%. Spokespeople at the three retailers — Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum Corp. and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. — that account for more than 90% of fuel sales couldn’t immediately comment on the provisional data.
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