De Beers increased prices of goods above 2 carats at this week’s sight as shortages of rough coincided with strong polished demand.
Prices rose around 5%, and more in some categories, market insiders told Rapaport News on Monday. Near-gem items also saw significant increases, while prices for other stones under 2 carats were either stable or slightly up.
“They seem to have picked areas where they’ve seen room [for price growth], and they’ve just hiked the prices up,” a source in the rough sector said on condition of anonymity. “For the time being, the market is absorbing it.”
Rough trading has been strong in recent weeks because of reduced supply from the large miners and solid polished sales. The RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™) for 1-carat diamonds has risen 2.5% since May 1.
Rough above 1 carat has been especially sought-after, with premiums on the secondary market rising while manufacturers look to fill inventory gaps. A backlog of grading submissions at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has exacerbated the situation.
The June sight value will be similar to last month’s $380 million as customers snap up the limited goods available at the sale, sources said. Proceeds were higher earlier in the year — peaking at $663 million in January — when manufacturers restocked after the holidays and De Beers had larger volumes available to sell.
“There’s a shortfall in goods,” an executive at an Indian sightholder said Monday. “They’re not able to serve everyone what they’re entitled to.”
Rough demand slumped during the 2020 coronavirus crisis as the global supply chain froze. De Beers chose to maintain prices until August, when it offered deep discounts to encourage sightholders to resume buying. It has since reversed those cuts, gradually bringing prices to above pre-pandemic levels in many categories.
The sight began on Monday and runs until Friday. De Beers was not available for comment at press time.
The diamond sector’s rebound from the Covid-19 crisis will feature ups and downs that will continue into next year at least, De Beers predicted.
“The demand recovery is not expected to be linear, particularly as localized lockdowns take place,” De Beers explained Monday in its annual Diamond Insight Report. “Retailer expectations for the second half of the year are mixed, with more optimism in the US but muted sentiments in India and the Far East.”
The pandemic severely hit Chinese demand in the first quarter of this year and US sales in the second quarter, with the recovery likely to “extend well beyond 2020,” the company noted. The impact of Covid-19 on the global economy and the second wave of lockdowns in the fourth quarter have further harmed consumer spending, it added.
“The consequences of these events will determine the short to medium-term outlook,” De Beers added. “However, a weakening US dollar could offset some of the softness in demand in local currencies.”
The pandemic dented the positive trends that were visible at the end of 2019, De Beers said. Diamond-jewelry sales to Chinese consumers slid 45% year on year in the first quarter of 2020, and by around a third for the entire first half, the company estimated. The second-quarter recovery was “tentative,” mainly benefiting established brands and online sales, it added.
In the US, sales dropped about 40% in the second quarter of 2020, and by just under 20% for the first half. There was “evidence of rising sales” among independent jewelers and chains, as well as online, in June and the third quarter, the company continued. Demand in India dropped by more than 30% in the first half, reflecting a slump of nearly 50% during the April-May lockdown.
In 2019, global diamond-jewelry demand increased 0.5% to $79 billion — a weaker growth figure than in previous years as the strong dollar dented sales in China. Demand rose 4% in the US and 3% in Japan, offsetting weaker figures in other markets. The US expanded its share of the polished-diamond market to 48%, from 46% in 2018, while China slipped to 15% from 16%.
The Chinese yuan depreciated against the dollar in 2019 amid a trade war between Beijing and Washington, DC. In local-currency terms, demand from Chinese consumers climbed 1%.
De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver has called on the trade to allow rough purchases, assuring manufacturers the company won’t require them to buy in the weak market.
“We will only sell [rough] when the demand is such that it can create sustainable value for all of us,” the executive wrote in a blog post Friday. “However, just as we are not compelling our clients to purchase, we strongly believe it is counterproductive for any part of the industry to compel them not to purchase.”
Cleaver’s plea comes after the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and other Indian trade organizations called on the nation’s diamond sector to pause rough-diamond imports for 30 days, beginning on May 15. The move would improve the Indian industry’s liquidity situation and deplete inflated polished inventories, the trade bodies explained.
Without explicitly referencing the Indian trade groups’ appeal to their members, Cleaver argued that supply had already been significantly reduced after De Beers suspended production at most of its mines. “Almost all other diamond producers have halted or significantly reduced supply, with some mines unlikely to return to production,” he added. De Beers cut its production guidance for 2020 to 25 million to 27 million carats, more than 20% below its initial projection, Cleaver noted.
The company also canceled its March sight and is offering 100% deferrals at sight 4, which begins Monday. Sightholders are likely to defer the vast majority of purchases to later in the year, as weak consumer demand and the shutdown of India’s cutting industry have diminished appetite for rough.
On Friday, India extended its nationwide lockdown by two weeks, raising the question of when diamond manufacturing would revert to normal, especially in the city of Surat, which produces more than 90% of the world’s polished goods.
Meanwhile, Cleaver urged the industry to capitalize on the diamond’s symbolism, as consumers will seek to purchase “fewer, but more meaningful things” as they move out of lockdown. Signs of pent-up demand from delayed weddings, and self-purchases to reward hardships that have been overcome, are starting to show in China as the lockdown there has eased, the CEO commented. People are visiting stores and shopping malls again, he said.
In its communication with consumers over the coming months, De Beers will emphasize the role diamonds play in shaping a better world and in forging meaningful connections, he stressed.
“Just as they have had to find innovative ways to stay connected with loved ones, we will find new ways to connect with them,” he said.
“Throughout time, the diamond has served as a powerful symbol of connection and meaning,” he wrote. “It has always been attached to life’s most precious moments and relationships and represented a store of value, but increasingly we believe a diamond is becoming a store of values.”
De Beers plans to split sightholders into three categories and offer each group a more bespoke selection of rough diamonds as part of changes to its sales system.
Manufacturers, dealers and retailers will sign specific supply contracts designed for the “broad needs” of each business model, a De Beers spokesperson told Rapaport News Thursday.
The arrangement will take effect in January 2021, following the end of the current sightholder contract, which runs until December 2020. Applications start this week, giving companies four weeks to complete the process, a source in the rough market said on condition of anonymity.
The manufacturer contract will “support the core strengths” of each cutting firm, De Beers explained. Dealers — those that buy rough for resale — will receive a “regular and consistent range of goods,” especially in higher-volume areas. The retailer contract is tailored for companies that sell jewelry to consumers and also have polishing operations. Beneficiation contracts — for sightholders that commit to polishing certain goods in the country where they were mined — will remain as modified versions of the manufacturing contract.
“It is our ambition to offer supplies and services that can help to better support the unique strengths of the great businesses of the diamond midstream, and we feel this approach is the optimal way of achieving this,” the spokesperson said.
The company has long been contemplating changes to its sightholder system amid difficult conditions in the manufacturing and trading sectors, such as tight liquidity and an inventory imbalance. Its supply rules — based on a method known as “demonstrated demand” — have also faced criticism.
Under that system, De Beers mainly determines clients’ rough supply using their purchasing record — a controversial policy because it can encourage sightholders to take on unprofitable inventory to secure future access to its goods. It offers the diamonds in prearranged boxes that customers either take or leave, with only limited flexibility to adjust the contents. That sometimes forces sightholders to buy items they don’t want just so they can get the stones they need.
The current method has come under particular scrutiny given the excess polished in the market last year, which contributed to a slump in rough demand. Last July, Dutch bank ABN Amro urged its clients to stop buying unprofitable rough, and attacked the practice of making purchases purely to maintain supply allocations.
De Beers’ revenue fell 24% to $4.61 billion in 2019, while underlying earnings slid 87% to $45 million, as the supply glut left sightholders unwilling to buy more rough. The situation forced the miner to allow unprecedented refusals and other concessions to avoid flooding the market with goods.
The “need for us to adapt to the changing world” has been the subject of talks between De Beers and sightholders for a while, the company spokesperson added.
“This new approach to sightholder contracts is one way we are going about this,” he noted.
De Beers has restated its estimation of global diamond-jewelry sales following a new study valuing the diamond content in jewelry purchases since the 2008 recession. The group also revised its production data to reflect lower output than previously believed, stemming from an overestimation of the artisanal mining sector.
Global diamond jewelry demand rose 2.4% to $76 billion in 2018, driven by growth in the US and China, De Beers said in its annual Diamond Insight Report published last week. However, that figure was below the $82 billion it had originally reported for 2017, as the company gained new insight relating to the elements that are included when valuing jewelry, De Beers explained.
The company revised its estimation for 2009 to 2018 following studies it conducted with retailers relating to the content of diamond-jewelry purchases and the structure of the trade, as well as its “Diamond Acquisition Study” with consumers. The revised figures reflect mainly the value of sales in the US, and are more consistent with the total jewelry retail value stated by the US Commerce Department, De Beers noted. The government agency last year revised down its estimation of US jewelry retail sales.
De Beers maintained its assessment of global polished-diamond demand, which saw a 2% rise to $25.3 billion for 2018, a figure that is included in the jewelry sales total. That suggests there was an overestimation of other elements contributing to the overall jewelry value, such as the value of the metal used, a company representative explained.
De Beers used third-party researchers to obtain information from retailers about their diamond sales, including the description of the diamond, the metal used and the full breakdown of the piece. From that information, the company calculated the price per carat of the diamonds and was therefore able to understand the value of the diamond content and the proportion of the total for which it accounts.
“The study revealed that the share of the polished wholesale value in the overall jewelry retail value had increased in the US after the financial crisis of 2008,” the company noted in the report. “The adjustments made resulted in a new lower diamond-jewelry market estimate for the US and globally.”
Sales in the US grew 5% to $36 billion in 2018, accounting for 49% of the total, according to the research. In China, consumer demand for diamonds rose 3% in local currency and 5% by dollar value to $10 billion, with growth slowing considerably in the second half of the year when the US-China trade war escalated, De Beers noted. Demand also grew in Japan, buoyed by the appreciation of the yen against the dollar, while the market declined in India and the Gulf.
De Beers observed that consumers were increasingly tending toward smaller center diamonds in their engagement-ring purchases, but with more side stones and accents. Other trends influencing demand included a shift toward branded products, with 36% of diamond engagement rings by volume being branded, compared to 22% five years ago. Greater confidence in online buying is also spurring growth, helping chain stores and prestige brands gain market share at the expense of specialist independents, the report stated.
De Beers expects growth to continue in 2019, supported by macroeconomic fundamentals. However, dissipating fiscal stimulus and rising recession fears could prove to be a drag on growth in the US in 2020, the company cautioned.
Production levels down
Meanwhile, global diamond production in 2018 fell 2.7% to 154 million carats, with its value up an estimated 2.4% to $17.4 billion in 2018, according to De Beers. In last year’s Insight Report, the company said 2017 output stood at 164 million carats valued at $17.5 billion. De Beers lowered its estimation of global rough production after it commissioned a third-party study of the artisanal mining sector.
“The nature of the informal sector is such that there is less information available to accurately estimate production to a high level of confidence,” a spokesperson explained in an email. “The report concluded that our previous estimates of informal production were likely too high, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The report outlined growth in global diamond production, rough sales, polished wholesale demand and diamond-jewelry sales, as presented in the following table:
Data from 2019 De Beers Insight report, with Rapaport estimates for percentage growth where it wasn’t provided.