The recovering diamond market will continue to be good news for De Beers and parent Anglo American this year.
De Beers doubled its operating profit to $1bn for the year to December 2013, accounting for 15% of Anglo American’s total underlying profit.
The polished diamond market could grow 4% this year after growth estimated at between 3% and 3.5% last year, said De Beers CEO Philippe Mellier. He said the group was planning for rough diamond production of between 31-million and 32-million carats this year after producing 31.2-million carats last year.
Mr Mellier said: “We are looking at producing about the same number of carats but we could potentially produce slightly more if demand is slightly higher.”
He declined to forecast 2014 earnings but De Beers has already increased prices at the first diamond sales “sight” of the year, in January, which Mr Mellier described as a “very good sight” in terms of sales volumes.
De Beers offers the bulk of its diamonds for sale to its main customers – known as “sight-holders” – at 10 events known as “sights” during the year.
The outlook appears good for the diamond producer – now 85%-owned by Anglo American Corporation – which was one of the group’s better performers in its 2013 financial year.
The forecast of “slight” growth in diamond jewellery demand this year is made on the back of continuing gradual improvements in global economic outlook, with the US and China expected to be “the main engines of growth for polished diamonds. Most other markets are expected to show positive growth in local currency, with final dollar-denominated results being partly dependent on currency fluctuations.”
Last year, De Beers moved its marketing operations from London to Gaborone, Botswana, which it completed ahead of schedule, holding the last two “sights” of 2013 there.
In terms of its contract with the Botswana government, De Beers was required to complete the move in time to hold the first “sight” there in January.
Asked about issues raised by sight-holders such as having to travel through Johannesburg because there are no direct flights to Gaborone, Mr Mellier said: “That is still work in progress but it is not a big constraint. The most important point is that it is taking the same time to get the diamonds from Gaborone to Israel or India as it used to from London.”
On exploration, Mr Mellier said the focus of De Beers’ search for “greenfields” diamond projects was in Angola and Canada, though the group was still exploring in South Africa and Botswana.
De Beers views Angola as the “last great frontier” for diamond exploration because of that country’s high “prospectivity” and the fact that it is underexplored.
On punitive investment regulations which have caused diamond companies to stop operating in Angola, Mr Mellier said he believed De Beers would be able to negotiate agreements with the Angolan government should the group open a new mine there.