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Oct. 2000

If you are not inside the diamond business, De Beers’ recent moves are puzzling. We refer to two recent articles on De Beers’ change in strategy: One in Kiplinger’s, titled “The Cartel Cracks, But Will Prices?” and the other in Forbes, titled “Diamonds Aren’t Forever.”

The obvious implications of both these articles is that De Beers has given up control of the market, and that diamond prices will fall. It’s easy to see where people get this impression, but we haven’t noticed in the diamond business. Prices of goods across the board — from melee to big stones —are tight. There is a severe shortage of diamonds—almost a buying frenzy—in the 1 1/2 to two carat range. We haven’t seen things this tight in nearly 20 years. (Whether all this is healthy is another question.)

We recently asked Harvard Professor, Debora L.Spar, author of The Cooperative Edge, a book on cartels, what she thought of De Beers’ moves. She noted that De Beers is not giving up its leadership position, simply the way it’s controlling the market. It may no longer buy on the open market anymore, or bring every new mine that comes on stream into the CSO. But it did recently bid for two mining companies — Winspear, in Canada, and Ashton, which owns part of Argyle. They are going for the world’s biggest buyer of diamonds to the world’s biggest sellers.

The question is what would happen if there is a dramatic decrease in demand or a substantial increase in supply. Spar feels that De Beers, as much as it is indicating it is no longer a monopoly, would probably react like it did in years past and stockpile the diamonds, or do something else to support the price. What’s the point in spending millions in developing diamond mines if the price is just going to fall?

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