Good US season offers hope for diamonds in 2020, but impacted by China outbreak

Following a dull, distressing 2019, the Bonas Market Report on diamonds says there’s a glimmer of hope after a brief upswing in demand from the US and China seasons, but says the overall industry sentiment remains cautious despite this

After grim reports of acute midstream distress and shrinking demand for most of the past year, the Bonas Market Report for January 2020, for the first time in months, has some optimism to offer. Bonas, a global diamond brokerage and consulting firm, compiles a report each month on the latest rough and polished diamond trends from each of the industry’s major centres in the world. This includes an overview of the global synthetic diamond industry, on behalf of the GJEPC, plus reports on various other topics like the current state of the Swiss watch industry and chronicling diamond manufacturing activity in Southern Africa.

2020 began with cautious optimism following what is thought to have been a reasonable season in the US, and some decent sales into China prior to Chinese New Year… For many in the mid-stream, the priority this year is for some stability, with decent profitability to be allowed to return. Another year like last will likely force significant, permanent change in the complexion of the industry – Bonas Market Report

2020 BEGINS WITH OPTIMISM DUE TO US AND CHINA SALES

‘2020 began with cautious optimism following what is thought to have been a reasonable season in the US, and some decent sales into China prior to Chinese New Year,’ says the report in its general overview. ‘Factories in most manufacturing centres looked to normalize production levels, following the sharp reductions during the second half of 2019. As a result, rough sales have been relatively strong, and for the first time in many months premiums have been offered on boxes.’

However, it struck a note of caution for the industry (see excerpt on right).

ROUGH

On Mumbai, Surat and other Indian centres, the report said, ‘The opening sight of 2020 followed a period of subdued manufacturing. The large miners were able to sell decent volumes of rough as the pipeline needed to restock. Manufacturers are keeping a sharp eye on profitability and are not willing to take risks after having been burnt recently. Many DeBeers boxes performed well on the secondary market. Boxes with more complicated models, that need multi-sawing and take longer to manufacture, saw higher premiums,

eg, MB Clivage 3grs+7 sold at 10 per cent more than in December and Preparers Low 3-6grs sold at 25 per cent, 120 days. These were also in limited supply. Following news of the coronavirus, the positivity that was coming back to the market has evaporated. It is felt that those who bought rough at higher prices may regret their decision.

Manufacturers of better quality, sawn material continue to migrate to makeable product. Overall, manufacturing levels are higher than the Diwali sight, but still not at the same levels as this time last year.’

Tel Aviv, Botswana, Dubai, South Africa and Namibia all saw increased demand and healthier buyer appetites at the start of the year. On Antwerp, the report says that while the market maintained its positive momentum over the Christmas holidays, ‘demand for rough has mostly been driven by factory replenishment rather than by genuine polished demand. This is a cause for concern for most of the Antwerp players. If activity in the pipeline does not pick up over the weeks to come, the current positive sentiment might evaporate quickly.’

POLISHED

Trading picked up marginally in the Indian market in the run-up to the Chinese New Year, as well as on the back of late US-driven demand,’ says the report. ‘It helped that other centres were closed for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.’

The mood in the markets in Tel Aviv and New York was similarly positive, but the Chinese coronavirus outbreak is causing concern in Tel Aviv. Hong Kong is similarly affected by the epidemic. Brick-and-mortar sales in the US are seeing falling sales despite a healthy economy and a good season.

Following news of the coronavirus, the positivity that was coming back to the (Indian rough) market has evaporated… Overall, manufacturing levels are higher than the Diwali sight, but still not at the same levels as this time last year.

– Bonas Market Report

MARKETS

India

The Bonas report was released just before the Budget, and it had this to say about the Indian market: ‘Like last month, all high-value items continue to struggle in India, like real estate, cars and even jewellery. Major retailers in India have performed well, but sales for smaller players have been softer on the back of high gold prices and a weak economy. Jewellers are appealing to the government for a reduction in duty in the Budget, which will be announced on 1st February, to help stimulate the industry.’ The duty cut did not quite materialize, though Minister Sitharaman did announce a slew of other measures to benefit the industry.

Europe

‘The consumer confidence indicator in the Euro Area stood at -8.1 in January 2020, unchanged from the previous month and below market expectations of -7.8, a flash estimate showed. It remained at the lowest level since February 2017. Considering the EU as a whole, consumer sentiment was flat at -7.0. (source: European Commission). Brands have been holding back ordering due to the instability and uncertainty in the Hong Kong/ China region. Suppliers have been busy fulfilling orders from the end of last year, however new ordering has been soft at the start of 2020.’

USA

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased in January, following a moderate increase in December. The Index now stands at 131.6, up from 128.2 (an upward revision) in December. “Consumer confidence increased in January, following a moderate advance in December, driven primarily by a more positive assessment of the current job market and increased optimism about future job prospects. Optimism about the labour market should continue to support confidence in the short-term and, as a result, consumers will continue driving growth and prevent the economy from slowing in early 2020,” according to The Conference Board… According to Mastercard Spending Pulse, jewellery sales rose almost 2 per cent in the US over the holiday period, largely as a result of strong e-commerce growth. Online sales of jewellery are believed to have grown 9 per cent in the run up to Christmas.’

Hong Kong/China

‘The spread of the coronavirus has undermined all hope of a good Chinese New Year sales season. While some cases exist outside China, China is very much the epicentre, and this is where the economic impact will mostly be. This is particularly dramatic as our industry has been underperforming in the region for some time now, mainly on the back of the social unrest in Hong Kong and the China-US trade war. Our hopes for a good retail season in mainland China, at the start of the year of The Rat, have now turned into a distant dream as restrictions on movement and travel imposed by the authorities have brought the economy to a standstill. Shops, offices and factories remain closed, and the Shanghai Diamond Exchange has halted all operations at least until February 9. Following feedback from mainland retailers, sales have plummeted by 60-80 per cent.’

Like last month, all high-value items continue to struggle in India, like real estate, cars and even jewellery. Major retailers in India have performed well, but sales for smaller players have been softer on the back of high gold prices and a weak economy

– Bonas Market Report

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