The world leader in the sale of precious stones that dominates most luxury industries, De Beers, is also affected by the current Corona Virus phobia.
Currently, De Beers is in the Corona Virus scare like the rest of the world, albeit with all the fear it has, De Beers is willing to push through its fear and still brace the Asian markets, this comes after the reliable Asian demand markets continue to sneeze uncertainty on the global diamond business.
This week De Beers Chief Financial Officer Sussanne Swaniker-Tettery told the local media that recent brand sales at Asia fell by 30 to 40 percent, this could also include huge diamond sales fall, and this big plunge coincides with the outbreak of Corona Virus. She said people are no longer going shopping because of fear of the virus, hence a big setback is expected on diamond sales in Asia.
The Asian demand market is one of the biggest in the world after the US markets. The Asian markets where diamond sales are at its peak are; China, Macao and Hong Kong, these markets however have also been hit the hardest by the Corona Virus. The current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31st December 2019, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
China consumers are no longer going to shop for jewellery, a huge “destruction” to the economy of China according to Swaniker-Tettery as the world also is shunning anything that comes from China or Asia due to fear of catching corona. De Beers is on the side of Asia as she battles COVID-19, as the diamond giant waits on China to heal her economy after she defeats the virus. De Beers is on the bedside of China sympathetically hoping that all gets well soon, as diamonds are no longer bought because people are now looking for health not luxury.
Swaniker-Tettery was hopeful that the USD 2 trillion which the Chinese government promised after the fall of the stock market would jumpstart the country’s economy hence recovery of the diamond demand. However she remains uncertain of what the future holds for the Chinese market, telling reporters “it is too early to know.” According to Swaniker-Tettery, it is premature for the diamond producer to calculate the effect of corona outbreak on diamond sales.
There is no direct translation of the economic effects of the corona virus to diamonds or Botswana stones, according to Swaniker-Tettery, but major retailers and brands have closed shop as a result of the outbreak of the currently feared virus. She said even banks are already shy to fund those in the diamond industry. The De Beers Chief Finance Officer gave a scenario that in the time of the SARS outbreak, the Chinese economy went into a sharp decline before the control of the disease which led to the economy going up again.
She sounded like she is waiting for China to heal, so the demand for diamonds can also heal. Another problem coming from the Chinese or Asian markets, and adding to the corona virus woes, is the latest fall of China’s currency, the Yuan and the impending China-US trade talks. This is not enough for the affliction of the diamond demands, Hong Kong is also going through political unrest adding another blow from the Asian demand pool. There is also the latest risk in the diamond business. The increase of in online purchasing which causes additional retailer destocking.
“Throughout the course of 2019, the midstream inventory position was under further pressure due to the closure of some US 'bricks and mortar' retail outlets, an increase in online purchasing (where inventory levels are lower), and retailers increasing their stock held on consignment. Tighter financing also affected the midstream’s ability to hold stock, all of which resulted in lower demand for rough diamonds,” Swaniker-Tettery read De Beers’ woes before the press this week.
De Beers fights on with huge marketing expenditure
Last year November, De Beers announced that its marketing spend in the entire 2019 will be totalling to $180 million (around P1.9 billion) the group Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Cleaver told BusinessPost that the dispatch was the largest marketing spend in 10 years. Swaniker-Tettery told journalists on Thursday that De Beers has survived all the winds against the diamond industry by marketing. She explained how they captured China markets which used to be a market not commonly infatuated by diamonds and the sentimentalism that comes with the precious stones. Right now De Beers is able to reach out to the middle class in China and India, not only the wealthy like in the past, said Swaniker-Tettery. She said this is because marketing developed the culture of diamonds as a big luxury.
Botswana’s EBITDA is currently at P3.90 billion. In all what De Beers makes, according to the company Chief Finance Officer, Botswana will take away 80.2 percent of all the takings either profit, dividends or taxes. In Botswana, overall production was 4 percent lower at 23.3 million carats (2018: 24.1 million carats). This is despite production at Jwaneng increasing by 5 percent to 12.5 million carats (2018: 11.9 million carats) as throughput rose to partly offset a 12 percent decrease at Orapa to10.8 million carats (2018: 12.2 million carats), owing to a delay in an infrastructure project and expected lower grades.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
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”