Diamond mining giant, De Beers Group is embarking on a holistic review of its operations to transform and restructure its business models across the entire value chain, from upstream operations to the way it sells rough diamonds in the midstream and all the way down to how it conducts its retailing downstream, BusinessPost has learned.
According to reports, the long imminent restructuring has been accelerated by the need to respond swiftly to business challenges occasioned by COVID-19 global crisis. The pandemic has adversely impacted De Beers Group and the entire global diamond industry.
“These difficulties, which have inhibited our growth over the past several years, have become even more urgent to address. They require us to act now to protect the short-term health of the business while refocusing and reorienting it to realize our long-term potential,” said De Beers Group Chief Executive Bruce Cleaver, quoted by Bloomberg last week.
According to these media reports, Cleaver sent a letter to De Beers employees notifying them that COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the restructuring of the company. “COVID-19 has compounded and exacerbated difficulties that already existed in the diamond world,” he said.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON DE BEERS BUSINESS
The London headquartered diamond mining behemoth released its half year financial results last Thursday; figures depict a sharp decline in both revenue and earnings. All segments of the supply chain were severely impacted by the global lockdown measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
After a strong US holiday season at the end of 2019, the rough diamond industry started 2020 positively as the midstream restocked and sentiment improved. However, from February, the Covid-19 outbreak began to have a significant impact on diamond jewellery retail sales and supply chain, with many jewellers suspending all polished purchases and/or delaying payments to their suppliers.
Rough diamond sales were materially affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, delaying the shipping of rough diamonds into cutting and trading centres and preventing buyers from attending sales events. These resulted in significant decline in total revenue for the business in the first six months of 2020. Total revenue decreased by 54% to $1.2 billion from $2.6 billion registered in the prior half year period ended 30 June 2019.
Rough diamond sales fell drastically to $1.0 billion from $2.3 billion in the prior H1 period ended 30 June 2019. Sales volumes decreased by 45% to 8.5 million carats compared to 15.5 million carats registered in the prior period.
Consequently, De Beers offered Sightholders the option to defer up to 100% of their allocations at the fourth and fifth Sights and held some viewings for Sight 5 outside of Botswana, following the cancellation of the third Sight of 2020 due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions.
The average realised price decreased by 21% to $119/carat from $151/carat driven by a higher proportion of lower value rough diamonds being sold in the first two Sights of the year and an 8% decline in the average rough price index.
Underlying EBITDA decreased to $2 million from $518 million registered last June owing to the impact of the considerably lower sales volumes and the lower rough price index reducing margins in both the mining and the trading businesses. Unit costs were flat compared with the first half of 2019 due to cost-saving measures and favourable exchange rates.
Rough diamond production decreased by 27% to 11.3 million carats from 15.6 million carats last June primarily due to the Covid-19 lockdowns in southern Africa. In Botswana, production was 36% lower at 7.5 million carats against 2019 value of 11.7 million carats. This was driven by a lengthy nationwide lockdown from 2 April to 18 May. Production at Jwaneng fell by 34% to 4.3 million carats from 6.6 million carats due to the shutdown.
Production at Orapa fell by 39% to 3.1 million carats 5.1 million carats due to the lockdown impact, as well as challenges related to commissioning of new plant infrastructure. Operations restarted from mid-May, with production targeted at levels to meet the lower demand.
In Namibia, production increased by 6% to 0.9 million carat from 0.8 million carats, driven by the marine operations as the Mafuta crawler vessel was under planned maintenance in the second quarter of 2019, and supported by the implementation of measures to enable continuity of the fleet while safeguarding the workforce. This increase was offset by a 30% reduction at the land operations to 0.1 million carats following the Covid-19 lockdown.
In South Africa, production increased by 37% at Venetia to 1.3 million carats from 1.0 million carats supported by a significant increase in grade as the final ore from the open pit mined prior to the transition to underground, partially offset by the lockdown.
Canadian production decreased by 23% to 1.6 million carats from 2.1 million carats as Victor reached the end of its life in the first half of 2019. At Gahcho Kué, production decreased by 3% due to Covid-19 measures. Jewellery retail stores were significantly affected by Covid-19, with the majority of De Beers Jewellers (DBJ) stores and Forevermark outlets closed across key markets for a considerable part of the reporting period. Stores have re-opened following the gradual lifting of lockdowns; however De Beers says the risk of another temporary closure remains due to COVID-19 second-wave concerns.
De Beers noted in the interim financial results that the current market outlook is highly uncertain owing to the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 infections; the ability of fiscal and monetary measures to continue to support employment and businesses in consumer countries; as well as the shape and strength of the global macro-economic recovery.
“Significant challenges for rough diamond demand look set to continue in the short term with the ongoing restrictions to travel in southern Africa, as well as the risk of further Covid-19 cases in the Indian cutting centres,” the London headquartered diamond miner said.
However the company says in the longer term, the outlook for the diamond sector remains positive, noting that it is accelerating its business transformation from discovery and mining; to how it sells rough diamonds to customers and how consumers purchase diamond jewellery – to ensure it retains its prime position as the world’s leading diamond business.
Mark Cutifani Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American PLC, 85 % owners of De Beers Group told investment analysts last week when delivering Anglo’s interim results that the restructuring of De Beers would range from improving shovel operating productivity at mines such as Orapa in Botswana to its ForeverMark brand through which it sells directly to consumers.
“We want to invest in our brands; we want to invest in ForeverMark. We think we can get a fairer value if it gets the right brand,” said Cutifani. Furthermore Cutifani said Sightholders, the diamond cutters and polishers who buy unpolished diamonds from De Beers in ten ‘sights’ or sales meetings a year, are also part of the strategic re-evaluation of De Beers.
“We are consulting them as part of the process; an important exercise will be who will get what and how we position ourselves in those conversations. The whole value chain needs to change and evolve to suit the times,” said Cutifani.
De Beers has however maintained production guidance at 25–27 million carats, subject to continuous review based on the disruptions to operations as a result of Covid-19, as well as the timing and scale of the recovery in demand.
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”