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How a tough Indian market is making De Beers change its policy

According to industry circles, De Beers has recently allowed sightholders to return around a fifth or more of what they purchased across certain categories as its sight’ (as the ritual is called), besides cutting prices of the roughs by 5 per cent on average, to support them amid a crisis in India’s midstream, or diamond polishing industry.

For the first time, De Beers- once known for its formidable clout- is changing a quaint practice that marked the secretive world of diamonds. In a major shift, the 31-year-old De Beers is letting diamond houses return some of the rough stones sold by the group. It’s a sign, traders say, of a slow market and a probable decline in De Beers’ control over the supply of roughs.

For decades, representatives of chosen diamond houses assembled in a room, and each was given a box of diamonds- a mix of good and lesser quality rough stones. The buyers, called ‘sightholders’, took the box without a word- accepting whatever stones De Beers offered. The ritual, which took place in London, later moved to Botswana after the family that controlled the group sold a chunk of its stake. India is the global hub for cutting and polishing roughs, with an estimated 9 out of 10 diamonds processed by the country being polished in Surat, and to a much lesser extent in Mumbai.

According to Economic Times, buyers allowed to return up to 20 per cent of stones. Thanks to this over concentration, the industry has been grappling with an oversupply of polished inventory and tight liquidity conditions that have plagued other sectors as well, including auto and realty. ‘’Traditionally, the rejection rate has been 10 per cent and that too is very select category of roughs. This month, sightholders had the flexibility to return around 20 per cent of the stones across more categories’’ said Anoop Mehta, Director of Mohit Diamonds, one of over 30 Indian sightholders.

Another sightholder said rough prices this month were reduced on average by 5 per cent, in addition to the higher rejection rate permitted. In the October cycle, the rejection rate was 30 per cent, he said. Sightholders cannot reject the entire box. However, they were given the flexibility to defer the purchase of the full box by a few months.

De Beers sells rough diamonds through 10 events ‘sights’ annually in Botswana where its 80-odd sightholders are given a box containing diamonds filled in plastic bags. In each of the past three sales cycles, culminating in the one on October 2, De Beers made less than 300 Million US Dollars- which Bloomberg termed as being unprecedented citing data going back to 2016. This is being attributed to the financial stress and oversupply in India’s midstream industry.

While De Beers did not comment on the reduction in prices or rejection rate cited by the diamantaries, a company official said the group had ‘’provided its sightholder customers with a range of flexibility options to support them during a challenging period for rough diamond buyers, this is according to Economic Times.

ET said the official added that the flexibility was ‘’not in relation to a slowdown in consumer demand for diamond jewellery, but rather some challenges specific to the industry’s midstream including high levels of wholesale diamond inventories and tightness in midstream liquidity’’.
Reflecting the stress in the system, India’s exports of cut and polished diamonds dipped by 14 per cent to a provisional 13.9 million carats in the first half of FY19, from 16.1 million carats in the same period of FY18, according to the commerce ministry-sponsored Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC). In value terms, exports in April-September 2019 shrank 19 per cent from a year ago.

Given the acute stress in the midstream industry over the past year, sightholders such as publicly listed AsianStar said De Beers’ move to allow return of stones was ‘’welcome’’. ‘’There has been a slowdown globally owing to the US-China trade war, weak economic growth in the Euro zone, closure of Hong Kong and slower growth back home,’’ said Vipul Shah, Managing Director of Asian Star. ‘’Given the multiplicity of these adverse factors, the move by De Beers is welcome.’’

From a monopolistic control of the market until the 1980s, De Beers’ hold has loosened with the discovery of new mines in Russia, Australia and Canada. Russia’s Alrosa is the world’s largest miner by caratage. In 2018, Alrosa mined 36.7 million carats as compared to 35.3 million carats by De Beers and 18.4 million carats by Rio Tinto. Pranay Narvekar, partner at gems and jewellery consulting firm Pharos Beam, estimates global output of roughs at 140-145 million carats this year, down from 148.4 million carats in 2018, owing to reduced production by De Beers.

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Inflation will bounce back to objective range in 2022- BoB

25th October 2021
Moses Pelaelo

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of Botswana decided to maintain the Bank Rate at 3.75 percent at a meeting held on October 21, 2021.  Briefing members of the media moments after the meeting Bank of Botswana Governor Moses Pelaelo explained that Inflation decreased from 8.8 percent in August to 8.4 percent in September 2021, although remaining above the upper bound of the Bank’s medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent.

He said Inflation is projected to revert to within the objective range in the second quarter of 2022, mainly on account of the dissipating impact of the recent upward adjustment in value added tax (VAT) and administered prices from the inflation calculation; which altogether contributed 5.2 percentage points to the current level of inflation.  Overall, risks to the inflation outlook are assessed to be skewed to the upside.

These risks include the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts; persistence of supply and logistical constraints due to lags in production; possible maintenance of travel restrictions and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic; domestic risk factors relating to regular annual price adjustments; as well as second-round effects of the recent increases in administered prices and inflation expectations that could lead to generalised higher price adjustments.

Furthermore, aggressive action by governments (for example, the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP)) and major central banks to bolster aggregate demand, as well as the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programmes, could add pressure to inflation.  These risks are, however, moderated by the possibility of weak domestic and global economic activity, with a likely further dampening effect on productivity due to periodic lockdowns and other forms of restrictions in response to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.

A slow rollout of vaccines, resulting in the continuance of weak economic activity and the possible decline in international commodity prices could also result in lower inflation, as would capacity constraints in implementing the ERTP initiatives. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Botswana grew by 4.9 percent in the twelve months to June 2021, compared to a contraction of 5.1 percent in the corresponding period in 2020.

The increase in output is attributable to the expansion in production of both the mining and non-mining sectors, resulting from an improved performance of the economy from a low base in the corresponding period in the previous year. Mining output increased by 3 percent in the year to June 2021, because of a 3.2 percent increase in diamond mining output, compared to a contraction of 19.3 percent in 2020. Similarly, non-mining GDP grew by 5.4 percent in the twelve-month period ending June 2021, compared to a decrease of 0.7 percent in the corresponding period in 2020.

The increase in non-mining GDP was mainly due to expansion in output for construction, diamond traders, transport and storage, wholesale and retail and real estate.  Projections by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggest a rebound in economic growth for Botswana in 2021. The Ministry projects a growth rate of 9.7 percent in 2021, moderating to a growth of 4.3 percent in 2022.  On the other hand, the IMF forecasts the domestic economy to grow by 9.2 percent in 2021; and this is expected to moderate to a growth of 4.7 percent in 2022. The growth outcome will partly depend on success of the vaccine rollout.

According to the October 2021 World Economic Outlook (WEO), global output growth is forecast at 5.9 percent in 2021, 0.1 percentage point lower than in the July 2021 WEO update.  The downward revision reflects downgrades for advanced economies mainly due to supply disruptions, while the growth forecast for low-income countries was lowered as the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines weigh down on economic recovery.  Meanwhile, global output growth is anticipated to moderate to 4.9 percent in 2022, as some economies return to their pre-COVID-19 growth levels.

The South African Reserve Bank, for its part, projects that the South African GDP will grow by 5.3 percent in 2021, and slow to 1.7 percent in 2022.  The MPC notes that the short-term adverse developments in the domestic economy occur against a growth-enhancing environment.  These include accommodative monetary conditions, improvements in water and electricity supply, reforms to further improve the business environment and government interventions against COVID-19, including the vaccination rollout programme.

In addition, the successful implementation of ERTP should anchor the growth of exports and preservation of a sufficient buffer of foreign exchange reserves, which have recently fallen to an estimate of P47.9 billion (9.8 months of import cover) in September 2021.  Overall, it is projected that the economy will operate below full capacity in the short to medium term and, therefore, not creating any demand-driven inflationary pressures, going forward.

The projected increase in inflation in the short term is primarily due to transitory supply-side factors that, except for second-round effects and entrenched expectations (for example, through price adjustments by businesses, contractors, property owners and wage negotiations), do not normally attract monetary policy response. In this context, the MPC decided to continue with the accommodative monetary policy stance and maintain the Bank Rate at 3.75 percent.  Governor Moses Pelaelo noted that the Bank stands ready to respond appropriately as conditions warrant.

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SEZA to boost investment through Mayors forum

25th October 2021
SEZA-CEO-Lonely-Mogara

The Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) recently launched the Mayor’s forum. The Authority will engage with local governments to improve ease of doing business, boost investment, and fast track the development of Botswana’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

The Mayors Forum was established to recognise the vital role that local authorities play in infrastructure development; as they approve applications for planning, building and occupation permits. Local authorities also grant approvals for industrial licenses for manufacturing companies.
SEZA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lonely Mogara explained that the Mayor’s Forum was conceptualised after the Authority identified local authorities as critical partners in achieving its mandate and improving the ease of doing business. SEZA intends to develop legal instructions for different Ministries to align relevant laws with the SEZ Act, which will enable the operationalisation of the SEZ incentives.

“Engaging with local government will bring about the much-needed transformation as our SEZs are located in municipalities. For us, a good working relationship with local authorities is the special ingredient required for the efficient facilitation of SEZ investors, which will lead to their competitiveness and ultimate growth,” Mogara stated.

The Mayors Forum will focus on the referral of investors for establishment in different localities, efficient facilitation of investors, infrastructure and property development, and joint monitoring and evaluation of the SEZ programme at the local level. SEZA believes that collaborating with local authorities will bring about much-needed transformation in the areas where SEZs are located and ultimately within the national economy. Against this background, the concept of hosting a Mayors Forum was birthed to identify and provide solutions to possible barriers inhibiting ease of doing business.

One of the key outcomes of the Mayors Forum is the free flow of information between SEZA and local authorities. Further, the two will work together to change the business environment and achieve efficiency and competitiveness within the SEZs. Francistown Mayor Godisang Rasesigo was elected as the founding Chairman of the Mayors Forum. The forum will also include the executive leadership of all city, town and district councils, among them Mayors, City or Council Chairpersons, Town Clerks and District Commissioners.

Mogara explained that initial efforts would engage the local government in areas that host SEZA’s eight SEZs: Gaborone, Lobatse, Selebi Phikwe, Palapye, Francistown, Pandamatenga and Tuli Block. Meanwhile, Mogara told WeekendPost that they are confident that a modest 150 000 jobs could be unleashed in the next two to five years through a partnership with other government entities. He is adamant that the jobs will come from all the nine designated economic zones.

This publication gathers that the Authority is currently sitting on about P30 billion worth of investment. The investment, it is suggested, could be said to be locked up in government bureaucracy, awaiting the proper signatures for projects to take off. Mogara informed this publication that the Authority onboard investors who are bringing P200 million and above. He pointed out that more are injecting P1 billion investments compared to the lower stratum of their drive.

SEZA’s mandate hinges on the nine Special Economic Zones – being Gaborone (SSKIA), whose focus is of Mixed-use (Diamond Beneficiation, Aviation); Gaborone (Fairgrounds) for Financial services, professional services and corporate HQ village; Lobatse for Beef, leather & biogas park; Pandamatenga designated for Agriculture (cereal production); Selibe Phikwe area which is also of a Mixed-Use (Base metal beneficiation & value addition), Tuli Block Integrated coal value addition, dry port logistics centre, coal power generation and export; Francistown is set aside for International Multimodal logistics hub/ Mixed Use (Mining, logistics and downstream value-adding hub); whilst Palapye is for Horticulture.

The knowledge economy buzz speaks to SEZA’s agenda, according to Mogara. The CEO is determined to ensure that SEZA gets the buy-in from the government, parastatals and the private sector to deliver Botswana to a high economic status. “This will ensure more jobs, less poverty, more investment, and indeed wealth for Batswana,” quipped the enthusiastic Mogara. SEZA was established through the SEZ Act of 2015 and mandated with establishing, developing and managing the country’s SEZs. The Authority was tasked with creating a conducive domestic and foreign direct investment, diversifying the economy and increasing exports to facilitate employment creation.

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De Beers Q3 production up 28 %

25th October 2021
De-Beers

De Beers rough diamond production for the third quarter of 2021 increased by 28% to 9.2 million carats, reflecting planned higher Production to meet more robust demand for rough diamonds. In Botswana, Production increased by 33% to 6.4 million carats, primarily driven by the planned treatment of higher-grade ore at Jwaneng, partly offset by lower Production at Orapa due to the scheduled closure of Plant 1.

Namibia’s Production increased by 65% to 0.4 million carats, reflecting the marine fleet’s suspension during Q3 2020 as part of the response to lower demand at that time. South Africa production increased by 34% to 1.6 million carats due to the planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit and an improvement in plant performance. Production in Canada decreased by 13% to 0.8 million carats due to lower grade ore being processed.

Demand for rough diamonds continued to be robust, with positive midstream sentiment reflecting strong demand for polished diamond jewellery, particularly in the key markets of the US and China. Rough diamond sales totalled 7.8 million carats (7.0 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights, compared with 6.6 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q3 2020 and 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2021.

De Beers tightened Production guidance to 32 million carats (previously 32-33 million carats) due to continuing operational challenges, subject to the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions. Commenting on the production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of De Beers parent company Anglo American, said: “Production is up 2%(1) compared to Q3 of last year, with our operating levels generally maintained at approximately 95%(2) of normal capacity.

The increase in Production is led by planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers, increased output from our Minas-Rio iron ore operation in Brazil, reflecting the planned pipeline maintenance in Q3 2020, and improved plant performance at our Kumba iron ore operations in South Africa. “We are broadly on track to deliver our full-year production guidance across all products while taking the opportunity to tighten up the guidance for diamonds, copper, and iron ore within our current range as we approach the end of the year.

“Our copper operations in Chile continue to work hard on mitigating the risk of water availability due to the challenges presented by the longest drought on record for the region, including sourcing water that is not suitable for use elsewhere and further increasing water recycling.”
On Wednesday, De Beers announced the value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for the eighth sales cycle of 2021. The company raked in US$ 490 million for the cycle, a slight improvement when compared to US$467 million recorded in 2020 cycle 8.

Owing to the restrictions on the movement of people and products in various jurisdictions around the globe, De Beers Group has continued to implement a more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the eighth sales cycle of 2021, with the Sight event extended beyond its normal week-long duration.   As a result, the provisional rough diamond sales figure quoted for Cycle 8 represents the expected sales value from 4 October to 19 October. It remains subject to adjustment based on final completed sales.

Commenting on the cycle 8 sales De Beers Group Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cleaver said that: “As the diamond sector prepares for the key holiday season and US consumer demand for diamond jewellery continues to perform strongly, we saw further robust demand for rough diamonds in the eighth sales cycle of the year ahead of the Diwali holiday when demand for rough diamonds is likely to be affected by the closure of polishing factories in India.”

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