Beware a Supply Bottleneck

rough diamonds

The positive sentiment the diamond market experienced during the past few months was a welcome change from the gloomy tone that characterized 2020. Buoyed by holiday sales that proved better than expected, the trade gained the confidence to buy again, even with activity limited mostly to online platforms.

For the first time in many years, polished suppliers struggled to fill orders due to shortages during the fourth quarter. Just a year earlier, the midstream was plagued by what seemed to be a chronic oversupply that pushed down polished prices and caused profit margins to tighten. Among the few benefits of the Covid-19 lockdowns was that manufacturers were forced to freeze rough purchases, stop production, and start depleting the excess inventory they had.

With fewer goods available, it was understandable that the rough market would wake up again in the fourth quarter. The resurgence was a remarkable one, too: The combined volume of De Beers’ and Alrosa’s rough sales rose 57% year on year to 23.9 million carats in the final three months of the year. That’s more carats in a quarter than the two have sold since the beginning of 2017 — itself an anomaly period that arguably fueled the ensuing oversupply crisis.

The positive momentum continued into the new year with reports of sizable rough sales last month. De Beers notched its largest sight in three years, while Petra Diamonds and Mountain Province continued to see good demand at their tender sales, with prices up 8%.

In the February issue of the Rapaport Research Report, we consider the question of whether the strong rough sales are a product of polished demand or of the low supply that typified the market earlier in 2020. It could be both. What’s certain is that the rough market must cool in the coming months or risk throwing the industry back into a polished-oversupply scenario.

Such an event would undo the hard work that went into restoring an equilibrium between the rough and polished markets. It would also fuel skepticism about the stated intention — by miners, manufacturers and retailers alike — of ensuring the diamond market becomes demand driven and more efficient in its operations.

Now, at the start of February 2021, the industry is at a crossroads. Manufacturers must curb their rough purchases to maintain the balance we’ve achieved in recent months and ensure a sustainable recovery. While the holiday season was relatively positive for the industry, global diamond jewelry sales have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels and are unlikely to do so this year. For now, this means the recovery remains a supply-driven one, and the industry needs to walk the fine line between caution and its enthusiasm to do business again. 


A Crucial Moment for Artisanal Miners

Artisanal Miners Sierra Leone

The question of how to tackle the hardships facing informal diamond miners is as pressing today as it was when it first arose nearly 20 years ago.

It was first touted as an issue that perhaps the Kimberley Process (KP) could incorporate into its mission. But the KP was not equipped — or mandated — to meet the challenge, even if the sector represented an Achilles heel for a body tasked with facilitating the cross-border trade of responsibly sourced rough.

Instead, the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) formed, taking a developmental approach to advancing artisanal miners. Since its inception, the DDI’s goal has been to create an infrastructure that allows these miners to sell their diamonds through legitimate means, get a fair price for them, and make a sustainable living.

Operating primarily, though not exclusively, in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the organization’s work includes enabling community development; engaging with governments to formulate policies; organizing miners into cooperatives; providing professional training; and running initiatives to raise the diggers’ income, such as introducing them to new buyers.

Typically, the diggers work for less than $2 a day. With such low income, they’ve historically been incentivized to sell their diamonds on the black market, where the stones may be smuggled across the border, mixed with other goods, given a KP certificate and sold on the global market.

With an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million people working in the sector across 15 countries in Africa and three in South America, the DDI has spent much of its time registering miners in its systems and educating them on how they can benefit from working through its channels.

The organization achieved a significant milestone in April last year when it launched the Maendeleo Diamond Standards, a certification system designed to connect artisanal and small-scale diamond miners with responsible supply chains.

The standards include training on legal issues, community engagement, human rights, health and safety, ways to ensure violence-free operations, environmental management, interactions with large-scale mining, and navigating a site closure.

Clearly, given the scope of the artisanal mining sector, challenges remain. The DDI has had limited resources to pursue its goals and expand its reach.

In that context, the group announced in late July that it had merged with Resolve, a much larger non-government organization (NGO) engaged in addressing social, health and environmental issues. Being part of Resolve will give the DDI additional resources, such as administrative support for the work it wants to carry out, explained DDI founder and chairman Ian Smillie, who is joining Resolve’s board of advisers along with DDI vice chair Stephane Fischler. The group will be a division within Resolve and go by DDI@Resolve, with DDI executive director Ian Rowe at the helm.

The merger was born of the realization that the vast number of initiatives out there advocating for artisanal miners — not just in diamonds, but also in minerals such as gold, cobalt, tin, tantalum and tungsten — could lead to confusion. With NGOs, private companies, and government agencies all approaching donors and policy-makers to get support for their programs, the messaging could get muddled, Smillie explained. A pooling of resources would make for more efficient processes and a better outcome for the artisanal mining community.

Another example in July was De Beers’ GemFair program partnering with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and the Mano River Union — a cross-border association comprising Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and the Ivory Coast — to develop training in those four countries. Efforts like these have become especially important in the Covid-19 environment, where diamond demand has slumped to historic lows.

While the pandemic has halted activity in the DRC, Sierra Leone has been better able to manage due to its experience with the 2014 Ebola outbreak. But like the rest of the trade, artisanal miners need to think beyond Covid-19 and make sure the right systems are in place to facilitate sales when demand returns. That challenge is especially difficult for these miners, who rely on the DDI’s guidance to gain access to the global diamond market. Hopefully, Resolve will help broaden the DDI’s scope. And as activity scales up, it will be up to the greater jewelry industry to support this important part of the global diamond community.


Covid-19 Ravages De Beers Sales

Canadian rough diamond

De Beers’ sales and production nosedived in the second quarter as the coronavirus crushed diamond demand throughout the pipeline and forced shutdowns at several mines.

“Demand for rough diamonds was significantly impacted by a combination of Covid-19 restrictions [affecting] consumer demand and access to southern Africa, as well as severely limited midstream cutting-and-polishing capacity due to lockdowns, particularly in India,” De Beers said Thursday.

Rough sales slumped 96% year on year to $56 million after the company canceled its March-April sight — the first of the quarter — and allowed clients to defer all May and June purchases to later in the year. Sales volume plunged 97% to 300,000 carats, and prices fell as well, the miner noted.

Most sightholders were unable to attend the usual sales in Botswana due to travel restrictions. The pandemic also affected international shipments.

Meanwhile, the shutdown of India’s manufacturing sector reduced rough demand: Factories in Surat, the country’s cutting hub, closed in March for around two months, and ongoing virus outbreaks have disrupted the reopening process.

De Beers’ rough production fell 54% to 3.5 million carats during the quarter as the miner lowered its output to reflect the weak demand. Measures by southern African governments to contain the coronavirus also limited the company’s ability to operate, with Botswana and South Africa accounting for a large proportion of its mining activities, alongside Canada and Namibia.

Sales volume for the first half of 2020 slid 44% year on year to 9.2 million carats, with the average selling price down 21% at $119 per carat. The company sold a higher proportion of lower-value rough than a year ago, and average rough prices across the period slipped 8% year on year on a like-for-like basis.

Despite these setbacks, De Beers maintained its production forecast of 25 million to 27 million carats for the full year. However, it will review this outlook based on Covid-19 disruptions and “the timing and scale of the recovery in demand,” it said.


Ellendale revival on the horizon with increased diamond value

Ellendale diamonds

Gibb River Diamonds has completed a review of the mothballed Ellendale diamond mine in Western Australia that will help it edge closer to a proposed restart.

The independent appraisal, which was completed by which was completed by Independent Diamond Valuers International (IDVI) valued gems from the Ellendale 9 East Lobe at $US750 ($1120) per carat.

This price represents a 20 per cent increase since 2008, largely due to the high number of fancy yellow diamonds unearthed at the West Kimberley-based mine.

With these results, a mine revival is looking ominous for the site, which was closed in 2015.

Last December, Gibb River Diamonds accepted an offer from the Western Australian Government apply for new tenements at the site.

“This review is important as it helps Gibb River Diamonds to make commercial decisions regarding mine planning and development priorities at Ellendale,” the company stated.

“Previous operators had a contract to sell the fancy yellow component of their production to Laurelton Diamonds (the jeweller Tiffany & Co).

“It is uncertain if similar premium prices can be achieved with any future fancy yellow goods.

“However, there is a potential opportunity to capitalise in the uniqueness of these fancy yellow goods to sell above market prices.”

The independent appraisal showed a further 18 per cent increase at the Ellendale 9 deposit to $US559 per carat since 2008.

The Ellendale 4 deposit also experienced an increase in value to $US135 per carat, representing a 5 per cent rise in 12 years.

IDVI uncovered 16 per cent fancy yellow diamonds within the Ellendale East Lobe, compared with 9 per cent in the West Lobe.

Gibb River has affirmed that as this information is based on generic sales data, future sales results could “vary significantly” from those in the report, as no sales have occurred since 2015.


India’s rough diamond imports fall sharply

India's rough diamonds

Import of rough diamonds fell 15.54% in the first 10 months of this financial year, according to the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC).

Industry executives anticipate a further fall of 10-15% in February and March, as manufacturers are not keen to build up inventory in the wake of coronavirus outbreak which has affected demand in the major markets of Hong Kong, mainland China and the Far East.

Meanwhile, Russia’s diamond miner Alrosa has granted flexibility  

to India’s authorised bulk purchasers of rough diamonds to buy 55% of the contracted volume so that their inventory does not pile up. “The US-China trade war has impacted exports, which in turn has brought down imports of rough diamonds.

Slow demand in the world market has resulted in piling up inventories in FY20,” Colin Shah, vice-chairman, GJEPC, told ET. “Manufacturers wanted to clear their inventories first, before fres ..

fresh stocking. During the Christmas and New Year, there was good demand from the US and Europe and we were able to offload quite a substantial portion of our inventories.”

International agency Rapaport said in its recent report that the recent influx of rough diamonds in the market, coupled with the weakened outlook for China, had raised concerns that the trade would return to an oversupply of rough diamonds.

De Beers reported a 9% year-on-year increase in sales to $545

million in January, owing to firmer prices on select boxes of commercial-quality diamonds.

It said that mining companies were holding large quantities of rough diamonds which they could not sell in 2019. Production of rough diamonds is projected to decrease about 6% this year, although mining companies have enough inventory to offset the decline.

Zimbabwe’s ZCDC Sets Sight On Doubling Diamond Production

Zimbabwe Diamond Production

The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Mining Company (ZCDC) failed to meet its 2019 target of 3 million carats, but officials are buoyant fortunes will turn around as the firm has consolidated its investments in exploration, mining and processing to improve output this year.

Speaking durng a media tour of Chiadzwa diamond fields on Friday last week, Acting ZCDC Chief Executive Officer Roberto DePreto said they are aiming to double the 1.6 million carats produced last year through joint venture agreements, increased exploration as well as mitigating viability challenges, linked to power shortages and access to foreign currency.

“Since the Diamond Policy was issued we are now looking for joint venture partners, those joint venture partners get allocated a particular concession and we then subdivide the (overall) 626 special grant into specific special grants for those venture companies.

“Last year we produced 1.6 million carats and this year we are targeting to double that through our investments in new plant machinery and our exploration capabilities,” said DePreto.

Consuming an average of 5 megawatts and at 25 000 of diesel daily, ZCDC has also invested in new plant machinery from Belarus which needs foreign currency for repair and maintenance, with at least seventy percent of consumables and spares imported.

Officials said such overheads have hampered production targets, costing in total a minimum of 8 million tons of unprocessed diamond ore from the down time caused by the listed operation constrains.

Mine manager, Innocent Guvakuva said focus will be placed on optimizing processing capacity, already on a positive trajectory following acquisition of new plant machinery, as well as improving power supply to reduce production downtime.

“Last year there were issues to do with power, this year there has been a bit of improvement but last year it was worse, issues to do with fuel and general forex availability because 70 percent of all consumables and spares we import.

“So, if your foreign currency access scenario is not stable you are bound to suffer, but this year things have started on a better note… one of the biggest challenges in Zimbabwe is that we are a cash economy.

“We lost a lot last year in terms of production down time we lost, probably in terms of total material mined we are looking at about 8 million tones that we could have moved last year, which is very big,” said Guvakuva.

He added, “We have installed a 450 ton per hour plant it’s got phases now we are installing phase three where carat production is expected to go up, our focus now in terms of mining we are stable but it’s the liberation and optimization of the plant that we will work on.”

Guvakuva said focus will also be placed on greenfield and ground field, together with exploration contractors under a ‘hybrid exploration model’ in the seven approved special grants in regions considered diamondiferous.

“We are increasing our exploration through a hybrid model in the sense that we have our own exploration drill rigs, commissioned them in 2018, they are called diamond drill rigs that can drill up to 250 metres, we have what we call a Reverse Circulation Rigs (RCO).

“We have also engaged contractors which makes it the hybrid model, they have done work right now the contract has ended, but we are doing a lot of exploration we have a lot of ground field and greenfield projects all over the place.

“ZCDC we have seven approved special grants, in this whole area which is about 26 to 30 kilometers its assumed to be diamondiferous, but the economics of it is what we do through exploration. To say we will be here for two or three years I will be lying (is an under estimation) but we will be here for a very long time,” said Guvakuva.

Source: allafrica