While we are not in business of offering stock market advice, the sudden slide of De
Beers stock is of great interest to us and the entire diamond industry. The reasons for
the this interest have little to do with stock market profits and losses and much to do
the role which De Beers plays as the main steering mechanism of the diamond trade. Just
this summer, De Beers was criticized for its hefty profits while sightholders and others
in the industry suffered amid a profit squeeze. And the De Beers balance sheet remains
healthy. In August, following the release of De Beers first half year results, stock
analysts were pleased and projected sales of $5 billion by the end of the year.
Why then a sudden stock slide from a 52-week high of $37.75 to a current (as of
Nov. 20) trading price of $21.69) a 42% drop? Various explanations are offered by
observers. One is that De Beers is not alone gold stocks are down as well. But this
is hard to understand since the latest data from the World Gold Council shows that demand
for gold is up 11% for the first three quarters. The second explanation given is the
disappointing nature of the Russian contract.
Still another explanation is the perception by many analysts of De Beers
loss of control over the diamond market. One such analyst, Paul Goris, general manager of
Antwerp Diamond Bank, speaking at the recent Financial Times Conference in London,
commented that "one has to reconcile himself to the fact that the days of a
predictable and stable market, an exclusive single-channelled supply and guaranteed profit
are probably over."
A fourth possibility lies with the competition from the introduction of new synthetics
such as C3s moissanite colorless gemstones. Although C3 is not a synthetic
diamond, but rather a fine substitute with the hardness of "9.25" on the Moh
scale and other close similarities to diamonds, its still a potential competitive
threat to diamonds since it can be graded on the color and clarity scale. In fact, the
company is cooperating with the GIA as far as establishing standards of differentiation,
since the C3 stone is not easily identified as a non-diamond by standard diamond testers.
Meanwhile, De Beers has also been denying reports of Russian progress on colorless
synthetic diamonds, despite their admitted discussions with the Russians on the subject.
Some sources say the Russians may not ultimately even be the first to introduce synthetic
The fifth and perhaps most pressing reason for the stock decline is the necessity for
De Beers to cut their sales in the coming due to the dramatic drop in demand in Asia.
In conclusion, while we cant assess the value of De Beers stock value, as
far as the diamond business is concerned we need a strong De Beers to hold the whole
industry together. As for the company itself, De Beers does meet that criterion of
strength. And certainly this is also true of the further bolstering of its position as
part of the giant Anglo American group and its formidable assets.
Argyles Mike Mitchell recently summed up the need for cooperation among competing
diamond producers: "We need to move away from merely selling diamonds as a commodity.
This only has one end: price competition. That is negative for us all. It is in
everyones interest to have a stable diamond market with responsible players."