DIAMONDS AND GEMS
Diamond Bourses Federation chief worried about diamond sector debt burden
The head of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses urges his colleagues to have liquidity, and to reduce diamond supply.
Posted: Tuesday , 21 Oct 2008
LONDON, (Reuters) -
The head of a diamond trading group said a downturn in the United States, the world's top consumer, may compound his members' debt burden, and as such he welcomed a move by De Beers to trim supply in the coming months.
Avi Paz, president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday he was concerned about the debt burden in the diamond industry.
"The banks are nervous, the banks are looking at every diamond dealer, and looking at the debt and how they are covered," he said by telephone from Israel.
"I call on my colleagues to be careful, to have liquidity."
A rough estimate of total debt in the diamond industry was $12 billion to $15 billion, but so far there had been only isolated problems, he added.
The Belgium-based federation is an umbrella organisation representing 26 member bourses that trade in rough and polished diamonds and precious stones.
Paz issued a statement last week asking diamond producers to reduce supply during the current economic turmoil to stabilise the sector.
He welcomed a move by diamond giant De Beers, which controls around 40 percent of the market, to reduce the amount of unpolished gems at its next two sales due to reduced demand.
"This is a very important statement, it will assure the diamond industry worldwide."
He said De Beers "sightholders" -- tightly screened clients -- had an obligation to buy the unpolished diamonds on offer at periodic sales.
In the current economic climate, however, they might find it difficult to sell all the processed material to jewellery makers and end up with increased debt burdens.
Diamond prices, which have surged in recent years on tight supply and buoyant demand, have recently been hit by the global credit crisis.
Until now mass-market jewellery using small diamonds have been hardest hit by the downturn in the United States, the biggest consumer of diamond jewellery, accounting for half of the total market.
But recently, even prices of large, high-quality stones that appeal to the very wealthy have declined.
A lot of diamonds were still being sold in the United States and the product should appeal to people wanting a safe haven investment, Paz said.
But he urged those in the industry to be cautious about developments in the future. "I'm worried, I think people should be careful about next year... they should take steps to be liquid and not over-buy in polished and in rough (diamonds)."
De Beers, 45 percent owned by mining group Anglo American Plc, said in August it had boosted rough diamond prices by around 16 percent so far in 2008 due to strong demand.
But it said in July it was cautious about developments in the second half due to a downturn in the United States. (Reporting by Eric Onstad; editing by Simon Jessop)