India Says Slump in Diamond Exports Is Much Worse Than 2008

India diamond

Diamond exports from India, which polishes about 90% of the world’s rough diamonds, will collapse by as much as a quarter this year as the pandemic crushes demand and breaks supply chains.

Overseas sales of cut and polished diamonds may slump 20% to 25% in the year ending March from $18.66 billion last year, according to Colin Shah, chairman of the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council. That will push exports to the lowest in data going back to the 2009 fiscal year on the association’s website.

“In 2008, things were bad for a quarter and business recovered after that,” Shah said in an interview. “This is now two quarters gone.” While festivals such as Diwali, Christmas and Valentine’s Day will prop up demand in the next six months, that won’t be enough to lift full-year exports, he said.

Losing Luster

India imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March to contain the coronavirus outbreak. That brought activity to a halt and put the economy on course for its first annual contraction in more than four decades. With more than 7 million infections, the country is one of the world’s virus hot spots.

The measures to control the pandemic meant production centers were closed or operating at very low levels, and rough-diamond imports fell in line with poor end-product demand. The country’s diamond exports sank 37% to $5.5 billion in the six months through September from the year-earlier period.

Workers have now started returning to the diamond-polishing hubs of Surat, Mumbai and Kolkata, and factories are operating at 70% to 80% of capacity with social-distancing norms in place, Shah said. Still, it’s difficult to predict global supply chains as rules to control the virus change frequently, he said.

Uneven Recovery

The International Monetary Fund warned this week the world economy faces an uneven recovery until the virus is tamed. Chinese consumers are starting to spend again, while in Europe, the luxury sector is back near pre-pandemic levels despite a surge in Covid-19 cases that’s hurting normal tourism.

De Beers sold about $467 million of rough diamonds in its eighth sales cycle of 2020, Anglo American Plc said Wednesday. Sales improved compared with $334 million in the previous cycle, and $297 million during the same cycle in 2019.

“We continue to see a steady improvement in demand for rough diamonds in the eighth sales cycle of the year, with cutters and polishers increasing their purchases,” said Bruce Cleaver, chief executive officer of De Beers. “But these are still early days and there is a long way to go before we can be sure of a sustained recovery in trading conditions.”

Source: bloomberg

Diamond miners dented by liquidity crisis among India’s polishers

liquidity crisis among India’s polishers

Diamond miners are feeling the pressure after a funding crunch in the world’s polishing hub dented sales of rough gemstones.

Since celebrity jeweller Nirav Modi fled India in 2018 accused of having defrauded a state bank of nearly $2bn, banks have sharply cut back lending to diamantaires, who cut, polish and trade the world’s diamonds.

“Bankers have blacklisted the jewellers industry,” said Shantibhai Patel, president of the Indian Bullion and Jewellers Association in Gujarat, the country’s diamond-cutting centre.

The squeeze has forced diamantaires to buy less from diamond producers such as De Beers, Rio Tinto and Gem Diamonds — which have seen sales and margins suffer as a result.

De Beers is on course to report its worst annual sales in at least four years. In response, the world’s largest producer reduced prices for its rough diamonds by 5 per cent last month at its November sale, the biggest discount in years, Bloomberg reported. De Beers declined to comment on its pricing.

Across the sector, rough diamond prices have fallen 15 per cent since last November, according to Polished Prices. Industry experts say a further 10-15 per cent drop would push some smaller producers to file for bankruptcy.

“It’s a liquidity crisis that’s affecting the middle of the pipeline,” said Edward Sterck, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “Diamond manufacturers can’t afford to pay rough diamond prices . . . It’s a function of necessity that prices have come down.”

Diamantaires — 90 per cent of which are based in India — buy rough diamonds from producers such as De Beers that they then cut with lasers and polish for use in jewellery.

The flight of Mr Modi, whose clients included actress Kate Winslet, prompted banks to tighten up lending terms for manufacturers. Bank credit to the diamond industry, of which Indian companies receive about four-fifths, fell 20 per cent to $8bn this year, according to WWW International Diamond Consultants.

As a result, diamond cutters are working through existing stocks rather than buying on the global market. According to India’s Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, imports of rough diamonds into the country fell 22 per cent year over year to $7.3bn between April and October.

This has struck diamond mining companies hard. Stuart Brown, chief executive at Toronto-based Mountain Province Diamonds, said the rough stone market was “challenging” in its third-quarter results.

Mid-sized producers including Canada’s Lucara Diamond and the UK’s Petra Diamonds all reported lower prices for their diamonds in the latest quarter. Lucara reported a selling price of $390 a carat, a 13 per cent drop from last year and a steep fall from 2014, when gems sold for $644 a carat. Dire market conditions drove Quebec-based Stornoway Diamond into bankruptcy in September.

The diamond industry differs from other commodities given the large influence of the two largest producers on pricing, and the fact that diamonds vary in size, quality and colour. De Beers is a “price setter” that offers uncut stones to traders for fixed prices and quantities at sales, known as “sights”.

Production cuts and concessions, including discounts and flexibility to return stones, have provided some relief to De Beers and its customers. Sales rose last month but were still below $400m — the lowest in a November sight on record.

Mr Patel welcomed the Anglo American-owned company’s price cut, but expected little uplift in the foreseeable future. “There’s no work,” he said. “For one year, one and a half years, we’re not expecting any bullish trends.”

But Colin Shah, managing director of manufacturer Kama Schachter, is hopeful that the worst was over for diamantaires. He said that manufacturers were adjusting to the tougher norms in place after the Modi scandal, which could get liquidity flowing again.

“There’s much more [scrutiny] than there used to be,” he said, referring to banks’ lending practices. “Inventories have come down, everyone has made their business models leaner . . . I think the second half of 2020 will be better.”

Industry executives point to tightening supply over the next few years that will help restore diamonds’ key feature: rarity. Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine, which outputs 90 per cent of the world’s valuable pink diamonds, is set to close next year.

Meanwhile, retail demand for diamonds has been robust, particularly in the US where spending on diamond jewellery grew 4.5 per cent to $36bn last year. French luxury group LVMH’s $16.6bn acquisition of Tiffany, agreed last week, was seen by analysts as a vote of confidence in long-term consumer demand for diamond jewellery.

But other industry figures say more drastic action by diamond mining companies is needed to help bedraggled manufacturers. Martin Rapaport, founder of the world’s largest diamond trading platform, said the price cut was insufficient. “It’s not enough to recapitalise the industry,” he said.

“They need to drop prices as much as 50 per cent to return liquidity to the market. It’s too little too late.”

Source: ft.com