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Botswana’s diamond beneficiation hits a snag

A dark cloud hangs menacingly over the future of Botswana’s nascent diamond beneficiation and the truth must be told and credit given where it is due.  The future of the project hangs in the balance and its failure seems predetermined because of inherent structural problems, choice of the most risky and least profitable part of the diamond value chain, and lack of support and ownership of the idea from those tasked with the responsibility of spearheading it.

Diamond cartel, De Beers, motivated by greed and self-interest and opposed to diamond beneficiation from the onset, seems to have found a perfect opportunity to give Botswana a rope to hang and assured the ultimate demise of Botswana’s attempt at diamond value add.

More importantly, Botswana and other diamond producing countries have missed the boat and been overtaken by events simply because the global diamond industry has changed drastically in the recent past.  Diamond players are no longer content with concentrating their business on a single segment of the diamond value chain.

Diamond producers such as Botswana agitating for beneficiation, should have learned a long time ago that cutting and polishing are very risky segments of the business not without their own fundamental problems. Now best practices globally now are for more consolidation characterized by more vertical and horizontal integration along the whole diamond value chain.

Cutting and polishing segment is globally the least profitable realizing the lowest profit margins with some companies earning as little as 1-2 percent, while by comparison, upstream (mining and exploration) and downstream end of the value chain enjoy the highest profits margins of 16- 20 percent and 11 percent to 14 percent respectively.


Some things just did not add up from the beginning and it has never been difficult to discern that the project was not conceived in good faith. There was a lot of hostility at project conceptualization by and between Botswana government and De Beers who over decades were vehemently opposed to any calls for diamonds beneficiation dismissing them as both unworkable and illusionary and rubbishing everyone who dared advance a contrary view.

De Beers and their supporters in government and sections of the media pushed the anti-beneficiation paradigm with much vigor seeking to lock Botswana permanently relegated as a backward factor driven, and nineteen century mercantilist styled economy selling its diamond raw in the international market while De Beers, trying by all means to keep Botswana in the dark by parroting anti-beneficiation propaganda while it alone participated globally in all stages of the diamond value chain.

De Beers’ motive was clear according to diamond industry expert Chaim Even Zohar because, "historically Botswana provided up to two-thirds of De Beers profits. In all fairness, one can fully understand that the cartel went to any length to protect its interests, though it is hard to approve its methods".



There is therefore,  a dichotomy that that the very staunch opponents of diamond beneficiation have now assumed the responsibility spearheading the very idea they were opposed to all along and even rubbished anyone who dared to advance opposite view. 

There appears to be an unavoidable coincidence between the instability and uncertainty surrounding Botswana's belated and faltering attempts at diamond beneficiation and De Beers' historical opposition and disdain. Diamond beneficiation proceeded without thorough due diligence, choice of suitable, experienced and capable equity partner with a strong track record in diamond beneficiation.

De Beers was deeply conflicted and was never the right choice. Just as any project of that magnitude would require a social and environmental impact assessment, so too was a human resources impact assessment required but omitted in order to determine the number and appropriate skills mix to support the project.

So no concerted training to deliver the necessary skills mix was done nor were any training institutions identified to provide targeted and appropriate training in all aspects of gemology, either locally or abroad. Instead, heavy reliance was put on the benevolence of outsiders and imported workers in critical areas at high cost to the nation rather than the enterprise of citizens.


It is therefore no wonder that the beneficiation was programmed to fail from the onset because of lack of ownership and conviction from those tasked with its implementation and to make the idea work. De Beers derived huge and disproportionate benefits from the status quo and from the Botswana diamond industry in general and it was not surprisingly it had strong interest to keep things that way.

While De Beers globally participates in all stages along the diamond value chain, the greatest share of the value of the world diamond production it handles are derived from Botswana yet the company abused this privilege by seeking to hoodwink its leadership by hook or crook to perpetually  lock her in the relatively inconsequential and less profitable mining and rough diamond aggregation and sales.


By contrast, Paul Rowley De Beers' executive Vice President of global sightholder sales let the cat out the bag recently when he told the Dubai Diamond Conference in April that De Beers was active in throughout the diamond pipeline, through targeted investment in diamond equity at the retail end, midstream in rough diamond sales and distribution and in mining expansion.

"At De Beers, we continue to make investments throughout the value chain that we believe will drive our success in the years ahead and all participants in the diamond industry have a chance to of likewise".



Logic dictates that it is simply unbelievable that those who were so vehemently opposed to the beneficiation of Botswana diamonds, namely De Beers and Botswana government supported by some conservative sections of the media and who thoroughly discredited and rubbished anyone who held a contrary view would now by any stretch imagination be convincingly tasked with the responsibility of spearheading the implementation of the very idea they had thoroughly discredited.

For decades both De Beers and Botswana claimed that beneficiation was not feasible and that Botswana, a world leading diamond producer of the best quality diamonds by value did not enjoy any comparative and competitive advantage other things being equal.



They shied away from the stark reality that the mark-up of diamonds increases exponentially as it passes through the value chain. Beneficiation is the creation of activities beyond mining the natural resource in producing countries as a means of adding value. Out of the ground, rough diamonds move through the pipeline from dealers to diamond cutters and polishers, to jewelry manufacturers, retail stores and finally to consumers.

According to authoritative diamond industry report Bain and Company, the value of diamond increases significantly as they move along the diamond chain from the mine to the final market, nearly quintuple over the course of the journey.

The great value – US$25 billion or more in both cases is added at the jewelry manufacturing and retail stages, Jewelry manufacturing is estimated at approximately 65% of the retail sales based on historic average.

By way of illustration, Bain and Company when rough diamond production generates revenues of $14.8 billion, the revenue will grow to $47.2 billion when the diamonds are manufactured into jewelry and grow again to $72 billion when the jewelry is sold at retail, quoting IDEX; Tacy Ltd and Chaim Even-Zohar and Diamond Value Chain of 2010.

Maximizing return on assets of rough diamonds very valuable but the ending price of diamond jewelry is worth much more, according to mining academic Rudnicka (2010).

The trend in the world is to shorten the supply chain between the rough coming out of the mine and the shop window through vertical and horizontal integration of the production value chain. By way of example, Rudincka says, Lev Leviev, chairman of Leviev Group of Companies, controls the biggest pit mine, is the world's largest polisher and cutter of diamonds, and own Leviev boutique in London and New York.

De Beers owns diamond shops in London, Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles (Doulton, 2006). Tiffany and Co for the last 172 years avoided cutting and polishing its own diamonds, but has since decided to move backwards in the supply chain.

In 2002, it began opening cutting and polishing plants in Canada, Belgium, South Africa and Vietnam and later adding operations in China and Mauritius (O'Connely, 2009). Harry Winston Diamond Corp, now owns 40% of Davitz Diamond mine in Canada and retail stores in New York, Paris, Tokyo and planned to open others in the United States, Beijing and Hong Kong.


This has given the company access to the more profitable ends of the diamond value chain – the contract wholesale and retail business because the highest potential for profit lies in retail, because as a rough diamond moves from the mines, it increases exponentially by 320 percent at retail (Covert, 2007).

Bains and Company argue that diamond jewelry manufacturing and retail is the highest level of production that many countries aspire to upgrade to and manufacturing centers hold a lot of power in the final distribution of diamonds which has the highest potential for profit. 

Although rough diamond production remains the most lucrative in terms of profit margins estimated at between 16 -20 percent, the only other segment that generates comparable margins is retail, where large chains such as Tiffany and Company and Cartier can archive margins of 11-14 percent. 



Concentrating on mining alone is outdated on the evidence of diamond industry experts and policy makers. To meet the challenges of getting adequate supplies of the right mix of diamond jewelry, some large retailers have extended their operations upstream, investing in mines and in cutting and polishing companies. Tiffany and Company is one retailer who had made such and investment.

Hong Kong Chow Tai Fook, the world's largest vertically integrated jeweler and has responded to the supply challenge by securing long term supply contracts with ALROSA to supplement earlier agreements with De Beers and Rio Tinto. About half of the polished diamonds used in Chow Tai Fook jewelry were produced in-house.

Chow Tai Fook, and Tiffany and Company have already invested in mining operations and integrated backward by acquiring mines and eventually middle market operations. As rough diamond sales are likely to decline, the victim of consolidation will be cutting and polishing firms.

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Global recovery from COVID-19 remains unbalanced

2nd March 2021
Global recovery

As COVID-19 and its variants continue to cast a shadow over the world’s health systems and economies, the level of uncertainty and strength of the economic recovery will vary across countries. The real GDP in all G-20 countries is expected to grow compared to the previous year, but some countries will take longer than others to return to full capacity.

According to Mooody’s Global Macro Outlook 2021-22 report released this week, precautionary behavior and official restrictions are still hampering interpersonal interactions. The resulting toll on global economic activity has been staggering, even as the economy has also shown a remarkable degree of resilience.

Overall economic outcomes in 2020 exceeded Moody’s forecasts in most countries because of stronger-than-expected rebounds in the second half of the year. Aided by technology, many people and businesses quickly adapted so that they could carry on with daily activity with reduced in-person interactions.

However, Moody’s says the recovery remains unbalanced, with the pandemic affecting individual businesses, sectors and regions very differently. According to the group, goods demand has almost fully recovered because goods can be produced and consumed with limited in-person interactions, while the recovery in service continue to lag.

Within services, businesses that were able to effectively deliver their products at arms-length have stabilized, if not prospered. Large businesses with access to cheap funding have performed better than small and mid-sized firms. According to the report, the transportation, hospitality and leisure and arts sectors continue to languish, but the information technology, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and financial sectors have thrived.

According to the report, many individuals around the world (including Botswana), have lost their jobs and continue to face employment uncertainty, but on the flip side, the forced decline in household consumption and the rise in asses prices have buttressed household financial balances at an aggregate level. Moody’s reported that all G-20 countries will post growth rates in 2021 and 2022, but the pace of recovery will vary significantly.

“The COVID-19 shock has exposed differences between countries in terms of political leadership, community health management, fiscal and monetary policy response, economic structures and inherent economic dynamism. Public health considerations drove the economic shock of the pandemic. In that sense, the steep declines in GDP in 2020 across advanced and emerging market countries were less a reflection of underlying weaknesses in the economy, and more a function of the combined effects of the spread of the virus and the stringency of lockdown measures,” says Moody’s.

Economic outcomes will remain closely tied to the pandemic, Moody’s said. “The quicker countries can curb the spread of the virus, the faster their economic activity will recover. Otherwise the costs of keeping parts of the economy shut, in terms of lost income and revenue, will keep adding up. The longer the crisis lasts, the more difficult it will be for governments to compensate the private sector for its continuing losses.”

Without adequate government support, Moody’s predict that large-scale deterioration in asset quality will ensue. Such detrimental effects, it says, could eventually transmit the shock through financial channels to other parts of the economy.

“We have cut or estimate of the 2020 contraction for the G-20 countries. We now expect a collective contraction of 3.3%, compared with our previous estimate of 3.8%, because of a better-than-expected recovery across a wide range of advanced and emerging market economies in the second half of the year. We expect the G-20 countries to grow by 5.3% in 2021 and 4.5% in 2022, up from our prior forecasts of 4.9% and 3.8% respectively.”

US ECONOMY TO LEAD THE GLOBAL SERVICES DEMAND RECOVERY

The US economy advanced at a 4.0% annualized rate in the fourth quarter 2020, but the headline figure masks the fact that the economy has lost momentum since November, when COVID-19 cases began to rise. Moody’s says it expects this current moderation in economic growth to be temporary. Economic momentum will likely puck up pace over the course of 2021 and 2022, supported by: enhanced pandemic control, significant additional fiscal support to the economy and a more predictable policy environment.

With infection rates now starting to fall, economic momentum should naturally pick up in the second quarter and into the summer as individual states progressively ease up social distancing restrictions, Moody’s reports.  “We believe that a stronger pandemic management response from the Biden administration, will increase public confidence and allow for a relation of restrictions over this year and next.”

COVID-19 SHOCK EXACERBATES EXISTING STRUCTURAL CHALLENGES IN SOUH AFRICA

South Africa’s economy is expected to growth by 4.5% in 2021 and by 11% in the following year, following an estimated 7.0% contraction last year. According to Moody’s, this will make South Africa’s recovery one of the weakest among emerging market countries. The economy has struggled to build momentum for many years, and as a result suffers from chronically high unemployment. The COVID-19 shock has made the economic situation all the more challenging, says Moody’s.

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BOL, MDC advised to take interest in Kavango oil tale

2nd March 2021
BOL-MDC

Reconnaissance Africa, a Canadian exploration company has started piercing the natural resource-rich lands of Kavango basin in Namibia, the company in searching for oil and gas.

The prospective area stretches into North West district of Botswana, the company through its local subsidiary Recon Africa Botswana has been given the nod by Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security to explore petroleum mineral for four (4) years.

Amid all the negative reports around the company’s drilling activities in the Kavango basin, which covers ecosystem components feeding into the mighty Okavango Delta, the bottom line is that there are prospects of billions of dollars beneath the area in form of oil and gas-and Recon Africa is out to unearth the treasures.

Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe Dithapelo Keorapetse says Botswana should strive to participate in the exploration and development of these potential oil and gas deposits in the North West district. Contributing to the 2021/22 budget speech on Monday Keorapetse cautioned government against watching from afar while a potential multi-billion pula industry unfolds in the Okavango area.

He implored Botswana Oil Limited(BOL) and Mineral Development Corporation Botswana (MDCB) both state owned enterprises, to take up equity stakes in the exploration activities as early as now to “ rather than being spectators and waking up late when the foreigners are enjoying the billions”.

ReconAfrica through its subsidiary Recon Botswana was issued an exploration license under the Petroleum Act to explore for petroleum minerals in the North West District of Botswana, on 1 June 2020, for a period of four years.

“Botswana Oil as the country ‘s petroleum investment company together with MDC-a state owned mineral interest holding company must come together and acquire a stake in the ongoing exploration activities ,not to wait until Recon is making money and you say you want shares”. Keorapetse made reference to Karowe mine which Botswana’s diamond mining partner De Beers Group sold to Lucara over a decade ago while still at exploration stage.

Lucara bid on the site, and its internal partner Lundin provided a bank guarantee to De Beers for fifty million dollars, capturing some seventy per cent of the stake.Soon afterward, Lucara bought the remaining stake by acquiring De Beers’s London-based junior venture partner, African Diamonds. Lucara now owns AK6 (now Karowe Mine), having spent a little more than seventy million dollars.

The mine has since developed into a prolific rare gem producer celebrated worldwide, having unearthed some the world’s largest diamond ever in history , such as the over 1000 carats Lesedi La Rona, Sewelo and the magnificent 813 carats Constellation.

“We are now mulling acquisition of shares in Lucara but when transactions were happening in 2009 we were just spectators, we could have acquired shares back then when they were affordable now it is expensive to buy into Karowe mine, we must not make the same mistake with this oil and gas projects” said Keorapetse urging Government to be pro-active and move quickly to approach Recon Africa for a stake in Recon Africa Botswana.

ReconAfrica is a junior oil and gas company engaged in the exploration and development of oil and gas in North East of Namibia and North West of Botswana—the Kavango Basin. The company officially launched the oil and gas exploration project in Namibia in early January 2021. The exploration activities are taking place in the Kawe area, Kavango East Region, Namibia.

ReconAfrica holds a 90% interest in a petroleum exploration license in Namibia which covers the entire Kavango sedimentary basin in Namibia, the remaining 10% is owned by Government of Namibia. The exploration licence covers an area of 25,341.33 km2 (6.3 million acres), and based on commercial success, it entitles ReconAfrica to obtain a 25-year production license.

Further, ReconAfrica holds a 100% interest in petroleum exploration rights in Botswana over the entire Kavango sedimentary basin in the country. This covers an area of 8,990 km2 (2.2 million acres) and entitles ReconAfrica to a 25-year production license over any commercial discovery. The company acquired a high-resolution geomagnetic survey of the license area and conducted a detailed analysis of the resulting data and other available data, including reprocessing and reinterpretation of all existing geological and geophysical data.

The survey and analysis confirm that the Kavango Basin reaches depths of up to 9,000 m (30,000 feet) under optimal conditions to preserve a thick interval of organic rich marine source rock, and is anticipated to hold an active petroleum system.

“We believe that the Kavango Basin is another world class Permian basin, analogous to the Permian basin in Texas It is estimated that the oil generated in the basin could be billions of barrels. Recon Africa’s initial goal is to establish the presence of an active petroleum system with its fully funded 3-well drilling program starting early January 2021.

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Lucara suffers P287 million loss in 2020

2nd March 2021
LUCARA

Canadian mining company, Lucara Diamond Corporation, well known globally for producing rare gems of unprecedented quality, has not been spared by the 2020 global market downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their financial results for the year ended 31st December 2020, released from Vancouver Canada late Monday, the junior minor reported a significant net loss of $26.3 million for the year (approximately P287 in Botswana currency).

This according to the financials is a loss of $0.07 loss per share, which is a significant decline when compared to net income of $12.7 million ($0.03 per share) in 2019. The company which wholly owns and runs Botswana’s Karowe mine registered total revenues of $125.3 million (over P1.3 billion), a 34 percent drop compared to $192.5 million (almost P2 billion) recorded in 2019 or $335 per carat from $468 per carat in 2019.

The decrease in revenue resulted in adjusted EBITDA of $18.4 million, a decline when compared to adjusted EBITDA for the same period in 2019 of $73.1 million. Lucara executives explained that total revenue decline was a result of challenging market conditions, a longer ramp-up for production and polished sales in the latter half of 2020 under the HB supply agreement.

“As a result, revenue from certain polished diamonds from Lucara’s highest value stones that would otherwise have been recorded as revenue in 2020, is now expected to be realized in 2021.” reads a commentary alongside the figures.

During the year ended December 31, 2020, Lucara sold 373,748 carats at an average price of $335 carat. Diamond sales for the fourth quarter of 2020 were held through a combination of regular tenders, Clara, for diamonds less than 10.8 carats, and through HB under the supply agreement for those diamonds greater than 10.8 carats.

The Company recognized revenue of $42.4 million or $402 per carat from the sale of 105,648 carats. Price recovery was observed in most size and quality classes. Of note, prices achieved for goods sold on Clara (under 10.8 carats in size) in January 2021 have now recovered to the level of pricing achieved early in 2020.

For the year ended December 31, 2020, Lucara registered revenue totaling $55.2 million from the two agreements with HB, including an accrual for variable consideration of $7.2 million related to “top-up” payments arising from polished diamond sales in excess of the initial purchase price paid to Lucara.

With global restrictions impeding travel for many diamantaires, Lucara says interest in Clara grew significantly in 2020 and the number of buyers on the platform increased from 27 to 75.
During 2020, Clara began selling stones on behalf of third party sellers, which was a significant objective for the year.

“As Clara becomes the online marketplace of choice for rough buyers, discussions are underway with several producers to begin trials for the sale of their diamonds on Clara” the company said
Amidst challenging circumstances for the diamond industry in 2020 Lucara forged ahead with the Karowe mine underground project.

During the year period under review $18.7 million (over P190 million ) was spent on project execution activities including the following: Site earthworks (consisting of laydown preparation and clearing of shaft and surface infrastructure locations), geotechnical test pitting and drilling, and completion of two pilot holes at the shaft locations, a 746 metre hole for the ventilation shaft and a 768 metre hole for the production shaft.

The Company was able to complete on-site earth works and geotechnical studies by using local contractors while a State of Emergency remained in effect in Botswana.  Long lead time item orders were also placed for shaft muckers, and hoist and winder refurbishment was initiated. In addition, power line engineering and detailed shaft design and engineering (consistent with original targets for 2020) progressed.

In Q4 2020, the Government of Botswana approved the proposed powerline route and granted a 25-year extension to the Karowe Mine License to 2046, sufficient to cover the remaining open-pit life (to 2026) and the expected life of the proposed underground expansion, currently planned to 2040.

Lucara says it’s currently actively exploring opportunities to arrange debt financing for the underground expansion for those amounts which are expected to exceed the Company’s cash flow from operations during the construction period. The underground expansion program has an estimated capital cost of $514 million (over P5 billion) and a five year period of development.

President & Chief Executive Officer of Lucara Diamond Corporation, Eira Thomas said the measures that Lucara took early in the pandemic, including the decision not to sell rough diamonds in excess of +10.8 carats after Q1, helped protect and support prices for large, high value diamonds that account for more than 70% of the company’s revenues.

“These efforts in conjunction with our transformational supply agreement with HB Antwerp executed in July, resulted in strong price recoveries by Q4, a trend which has continued into 2021.”
Thomas said the recent recovery of two, high value +300 carat stones “continue to highlight the extraordinary nature of the Karowe resource and underpin the rationale for underground expansion, extending our mine life out to at least 2040”.

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