China's three major oil companies - PetroChina, Sinopec and CNOOC - can expect better revenues this year due to a rebound in domestic demand and relatively stable oil prices, according to experts.
"The top three oil companies' profits will increase this year," said Lin Boqiang, an energy professor at Xiamen University.
Figures from the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Association (CPCIA) suggest that the three companies are expected to have combined profits of 222.8 billion yuan in 2008, a decrease of 31.3 percent from a year earlier.
The country's petrochemical industry posted negative income growth in December 2008, the first decline in 10 years, said the association.
The companies have not released their annual reports yet. Sinopec, which has the most oil refineries in China, said in a statement in January that the company's net profit for 2008 dropped by over 50 percent from a year earlier.
Sinopec saw "great losses in the oil refining business" due to the gap between high global crude prices and the domestic-controlled refined oil prices in the first half of 2008, said a company statement.
In the second half of the year price and demand for chemical products declined significantly, causing a massive decline in the company's profits, said the statement.
High oil prices in the first half of 2008 and weak demand since October are two reasons for oil companies' bad performance, said Lin with Xiamen University.
"But this year things are getting better," he said.
China's demand for oil, gas and petrochemicals will grow this year, as the domestic economic situation improves, said Lin.
Oil price will likely average $60 a barrel this year, far below their record high level of $147 a barrel in July 2008, he said.
Liu Gu, an energy analyst with Guotai Jun'an Securities in Shenzhen, had her own separate forecast for the three companies. "Sinopec's profits will grow 100 percent this year compared to last, CNOOC will see a 20 percent decrease and PetroChina will have almost the same profits as last year," she said.
Liu said international crude oil price will have the biggest effect on the three company's business performance but other factors such as windfall taxes may also play a role.
The stimulus package for the petrochemical industry will give them a boost, she said.
China approved a stimulus package for the country's petrochemical industry on Feb 19. The country will speed up construction of some large-scale oil refining and ethylene projects as part of the package.
China will also close outdated manufacturing facilities in the sector and take measures to moderate development of the coal-to-chemical industry, by not granting approval for projects that only aim at production expansion.
"Although the stimulus package that has already been publicized is not very detailed, it has already impacted the industry by improving the investment environment," said Liu.