Anglo American Plc has posted the lowest diamond sales for De Beer’s ninth sales cycle of 2016, amounting to $470 million, compared with the $494 million value of the eighth cycle of the same year. The diamond sales figures from De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond producer, are highly monitored worldwide as they act as an indicator of the health of the diamond industry.
“Encouragingly, the ninth cycle sales cycle of 2016 showed continued good demand for De Beers rough diamonds, with sales in line with expected seasonal demand patterns,” said Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers. The figures fit in with expectations of slowing sales in the second half of the year. The diamond industry is seasonal, with the holiday period from thanksgiving in November through the Lunar New Year in Asia in January or early February the busiest period for jewellery sales.
Rough diamond prices have rebounded by 7.4 percent this year, a marked contrast to the slump experienced in 2015 when sales slumped by 18%. De Beers which holds ten Global Sightholder Sales and Auction Sales every year started 2016 strongly after a disappointing 2015. The sights or auction sales are restricted to the top 85 customers and its held in Gaborone.
In the first cycle of the year, the diamond behemoth sold $545 million worth of diamonds, up from the $210 million of sales realised in the tenth cycle of 2015. The company followed up with $617 worth of sales in the second cycle before ramping up diamond sales in the third cycle, bringing $666 million in sales which remains the highest of the year. In the first three months of the year, the diamond sales came to $1.8 billion, sparking concerns that the diamond producer might be selling too much too soon.
Part of the diamond slump in 2015 was due to buyers holding too many stones in their inventories which were not moving as fast as expected following a slowdown in China’s economy. In the second quarter of the year, De Beers’s auction sales recorded dwindling numbers. Philippe Millier who was De Beers CEO at the time said the slump in the fourth cycle was due to normal seasonal trends returning to the market and added that the company is encouraged by the continued stability of demand for rough diamonds shown in the fourth sales cycle. The seventh sales cycle defied expectations, as diamond sales went up by 21 % from the previous cycle.
Mr. Cleaver said the $639 million worth of sales was a result of healthy demand for the company’s rough diamonds as manufacturers brought forward some of their demand in order to cut and polish rough diamonds in time for the important retail selling season. However, the uptick in the diamond sales proved to be temporarily as rough diamond sales for the eighth cycle went down by 22.6% to $494 million on the back of normal seasonal patterns coupled with the shorter than usual period between sights 7 and 8, and the forthcoming holidays in some of the major diamond cutting centres.
De Beers which is majority owned by Anglo American Plc and the Botswana government which holds 15 percent, is also the other half of Debswana, a joint venture with the government. Debswana operates four diamond mines in the country (Orapa, Letlhakane, Damtshaa and Jwaneng). Jwaneng mine is largest and most valuable mine in the world. Diamonds are the mainstay of Botswana’s economy since they were discovered shortly after the country gained independence.
The partnership between the government and De Beers is one of the longest known public-private partnerships, stretching to 50 years. The country is yet to diversify its economy from resources based despite imminent threats in the diamond industry that include competition from synthetic diamonds, stagnated growth in leading economies and the slowdown in China that affected several commodity prices.
In 2015 when diamond production fell due to waning demand, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)fell by 1.9 percent year on year, representing negative growth. However the diamond sector has rebounded and on its way to recovery as the country’s GDP for the first and second quarter have been positive. The International Merchandise Trade Statistics show that the country exported over P48.6 billion worth of diamonds in the past eight months, representing more than 85 percent of the total export revenues so far this year.
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The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”