The global diamond giant, De Beers is working with Botswana’s government to temporarily move their sights to places closer to international diamond centres.
The company said the move is necessary in order to try and restart trading which was put on halt due to coronavirus travel restrictions imposed by the government of Botswana.
Moving sights closer to international diamond centres will accommodate diamond buyers from traditional centres, such as Antwerp and Mumbai, who have been unable to travel to Botswana.
De Beers which is one of the oldest diamond businesses in the world, hosts 10 sales in a year known as ‘Sights’. During the sales period, customers are able to inspect the rough diamonds offered to them before deciding what to buy. There are two types of customers in Global Sight-holder Sales – which are Sight holders and Accredited Buyers.
Sight holders benefit from a term contract covering the sale of diamonds over an agreed period, whereas Accredited Buyers have a more ad hoc arrangement.
Already, the diamond company felt the pinch of the novel coronavirus scourge as they registered rough diamond sales of US$351 million during its second auction held in February, down from US$551 million during the first auction the previous month.
February sales were about 29 percent lower than the US$496 million recorded during the same period in 2019. “If we can move our product closer to them it would give us the flexibility to restart sales as soon as the markets reopen,” De Beers Executive Vice President, Diamond Trading, Paul Rowley told media on Thursday.
Rowley said the company will move some goods to locations closer to international diamond centres only for viewings with sales still invoiced in Botswana.
“The temporary measure will enable us and our government partners to generate some revenue in this difficult period. The two-month coronavirus lockdown in Belgium halted business in Antwerp, which is the world’s largest diamond trade centre. Antwerp reopened at the start of this month,” he shared.
Movement restrictions and weaker demand forced De Beers to cancel its diamond sales in April and May after the February sale declined by 36 percent to $551 million.
De Beers, which gets 70 percent of its production from Botswana, is curbing output. The company management has revised downwards its 2020 production guidance by 7 million carats to between 25 and 27 million carats in order to reflect demand and support long-term value as well as refocusing and repurposing marketing plans to reflect changing situation – timing, targeting, product types and messaging.
However, the economy has been severely impacted by the outbreak with the budget deficit expected to more than double as reduced diamond sales and exports impact revenues. Thus far Botswana has a low number of coronavirus infections with 40 cases recorded while 23 people have recovered and one death.
De Beers is 85 percent owned by Anglo American and 15 percent owned by the Government of the Republic of Botswana. De Beers’ two primary mines in Botswana; Jwaneng and Orapa represent 92% of the nation’s diamond output by value, with Jwaneng Mine being the most valuable diamond mine in the world.
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”