The 41% drop in De Beers first half 1998 sales to $1.6 billion has been widely reported. The significance of this drop for the overall diamond market and for De Beers as a company is being interpreted in different ways. Here we present De Beers’ own perspective followed by the interpretations of other observers.
The continuing recession in Japan and the economic and currency difficulties which emerged in South East Asia in the second half of 1997 presented the diamond industry with considerable difficulties. The contraction of the market in these areas, following the high level of supply in the first half of that year, meant that the industry found itself in an overstocked position. The CSO’s response to this crisis was to reduce sales in the second half of 1997 were 16% below the equivalent period in 1996 and 39% below the record sales in the first half of 1997.
The generally difficult market conditions have continued into 1998, and the CSO has consequently maintained its policy of severely restricting sales of rough diamonds, resulting in the reduction of 41% in sales in the first half of 1998 compared to the same period in 1997.
Retail sales of diamond jewelry in 1998 continue to reflect economic circumstances, with strong growth in the USA, Canada, India and Europe. Sales in the Gulf States, China and Taiwan continue at reasonable levels but the markets in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia have declined further. The impact of the South East Asia problems, which affected retail sales only in the second half of 1997, is likely to result in a further reduction in overall global diamond consumption in 1998.
With restricted sales from the CSO and the absence of any significant flow of diamonds from the other sources directly onto the market, the supply of rough diamonds to the cutting centres is currently running below the level of retail consumption. This has allowed the cutting centres to run down their rough and polished stocks and it is estimated that these stocks are approximately US $1 billion lower than in July 1997. This destocking process has allowed the industry to adjust to the changed economic circumstances, and there has been a noticeable improvement in trade confidence in the last few months.
Although the recovery in confidence is still fragile, the CSO has been in a position to increase modestly the amount of rough gem diamonds offered for sale at its 4th and 5th sights. Provided retail consumption is maintained at present levels, the CSO expects to be able to continue increasing its sights on a gradual basis to the point where supply to the market will be equal to current consumer demand.
The policies adopted by the CSO over the last 12 months have enabled the diamond industry to adjust to the problems of South East Asia without the pricing consequences which have affected other commodities, and which would have both impacted adversely on the financial structure of the industry and been damaging to consumer confidence in diamonds.
(Wholesale Diamond & Certificated Diamond in www.diamondregistry.com)