Supply Versus Profit

Avi Krawitz

The first half of 2012 ended in a state of despair for the diamond industry. Prices have ‎softened and trading is muted all around. De Beers and ALROSA have reduced supplies but ‎maintained high prices, despite that liquidity in the manufacturing sector has tightened.‎

While sightholders have been bent on maintaining their long-term relationship with De Beers ‎by taking its high-priced goods, they finally came to their senses at the June Diamond ‎Trading Company (DTC) sight by refusing their allotments. They have recognized that they ‎can no longer sacrifice short-term profitability for the promise of long-term supply.‎

Manufacturers must be sure that they can profit on the rough they buy in the second half of ‎the year if the industry is to avoid a prolonged crisis. Prices at DTC and ALROSA, the two ‎largest rough suppliers, are unsustainably high, reflected by the fact that sightholders ‎rejected the DTC goods in June.‎

ALROSA’s management recently told analysts that its prices were stable in the second ‎quarter of 2012 and that it expects they will remain at these levels for the remainder of the ‎year. ALROSA prices rose 5 percent in the first quarter.‎

DTC this week responded to the situation by informing sightholders they can defer up to 50 ‎percent of their next sight allocation provided they take the goods before March 2013, ‎when the current intention to offer (ITO) program expires. This action will enable DTC to ‎continue to hold its prices firm in the short term. By “enabling” the deferments, DTC is ‎essentially telling sightholders they can reject the goods at these prices, but these prices ‎will remain.‎

However, price pressures will persist as long as manufacturers are unable to profit on their ‎rough. Soon enough, sightholders will demand that DTC accompany its lower supplies with ‎cheaper prices. As Des Kilalea, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, stressed, “It is hard at ‎this stage to see sightholders willingly taking more rough post July unless the world looks ‎healthier and rough prices are more economic to process.”‎

Rapaport Group has long maintained that price volatility is to be expected and accepted as a ‎normal part of doing business.‎

‎“Firms should develop strategies for dealing with downward moving markets. Smart sellers ‎recognize that inventory cost should be based on replacement cost rather than historic cost. ‎They remain profitable and support market prices by selling cheap and buying cheaper. ‎Lower prices are a healthy part of the economic cycle as they create excellent buying ‎opportunities and higher profits for smart buyers who ensure that diamonds remain an ‎excellent value in uncertain times,” said Martin Rapaport, Chairman of the Rapaport Group (October 2011).‎

The reality that manufacturers enable mining sector profits at the expense of their own, by ‎paying high prices, must be a thing of the past – particularly as the economic outlook ‎diminishes and especially since diamond market sentiment has weakened.‎

In fact, the mood in the diamond industry has turned quite pessimistic in the past few ‎weeks, and expectations for the second half of the year continue to diminish.‎

Certainly the diamond market dynamics have changed. The U.S. has proved to be a ‎mainstay of stability, even as demand there is selective, while luxury purchases in the ‎growth markets of China and India have slowed.‎

These undercurrents were evident at the June trade shows in Las Vegas and this past ‎week’s smaller Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair. The glum outlook has resonated through ‎the trading halls in Mumbai, Antwerp and Ramat Gan.‎

The subdued atmosphere marks a significant difference from the first half of 2011 when ‎dealer trading was in overdrive and Indian and Chinese polished buying accelerated. Back ‎then, a seller’s market prevailed as U.S. retailers played catch up with their Asian ‎counterparts who were prepared to pay higher prices as they competed for goods.‎

While easy credit to Indian buyers drove up prices throughout the pipeline last year, the ‎market has now turned as that easy access to cash has disappeared.‎

Indian liquidity has depleted for a number of reasons. Consumer confidence is down, ‎government support is weak, inflation is rising and its currency depreciating. In contrast to ‎‎2008-09, when domestic demand sheltered the Indian industry from the global economic ‎crisis, the local economy today is serving to aggravate the uncertainty.‎

The dramatic devaluation of the rupee, which has lost about 25 percent in value from one ‎year ago, has stifled diamond trading. Indian industry’s rupee-held debt has become more ‎expensive to pay back, while bank credit, which was too loose for a number of years, has ‎tightened. One banker told Rapaport News that they are viewing new proposals with greater ‎caution as the market has weakened. Traders in Israel and Antwerp are also feeling the ‎credit pinch.‎

Polished prices have declined in the second quarter of 2012, as they did in the first quarter. ‎The RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI) for 1-carat diamonds is expected to have fallen by 3 ‎percent to 4 percent during the first half of the year when final data is published next week.‎

The steepest decline emerged from mid-May to the present, reflecting the caution that has ‎enveloped the market in the past month.‎

Polished dealers are sniffing for bargains, while retail and wholesale buyers – taking their ‎cues from the weak economy – are still willing to hold back on their purchases as they ‎expect further price declines. Cash-strapped suppliers have signaled a willingness to sell ‎cheaper as they try to rejuvenate turnover.‎

These trends are bound to continue in the coming months as the trade works to stimulate its ‎profit margins. Increasingly, suppliers will sell cheap in order to buy cheaper, and innovate ‎to add value and spur profits.‎

Sightholders will leave goods on the table even beyond the July deferral window if DTC ‎prices do not reflect the market.‎ While De Beers and ALROSA appear intent to keep their goods in the ground and wait for ‎market prices to catch up to their own, the opposite will prove true.‎

As the trade expects the second half of 2012 to be as challenging as the first, the ‎downward market presents an opportunity for shrewd diamond cutters to profit – as long as ‎they have the courage to enforce just that. The long term supply promise means little if they ‎can’t make money today.‎

Source Rapaport