Sunday, July 3, 2011

Commodities: Markets balk at sparkling diamond prices

Diamond prices continue to soar, with rough prices up 27pc in 2010 to levels higher than before the crisis. Prices have continued to rise this year, but high prices may now be putting buyers off.

Anecdotal evidence of this "demand destruction" has started to emerge. On Thursday, sector observer Rapaport noted that, although demand is still strong, caution had entered some markets.

"Far East markets are strong and likely to remain so, but a recent Hong Kong show failed to meet supplier expectations with reports that buyers are resisting higher prices," Rapaport said.

The organisation also noted that some caution had entered the Indian market, as buyers of polished stones were adjusting slowly to rising asking prices – and it noted that the Chinese wholesale market had "slowed slightly".

The recently released Cap Gemini/Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report 2011 suggested that rising numbers of the super-rich in the Middle East were responsible for the steep bounce in diamond prices over the last year.

Out of total global sales, Middle Eastern buyers accounted for 29pc of sales of jewellery, gems and watches by high net worth individuals (HNWI) in 2010.

"Record prices for diamonds at international auctions in 2010 exemplified the growing trend among the world's HNWIs to see large diamonds as a safe and high-growth investment alternative," the report said. "Current demand at the highest end of the market appears to be largely from Russia and the Middle East, but demand from Chinese and other Asia-Pacific investors is also growing fast," it added.

Diamonds are seen as easy ways to transport wealth as they are small and valuable.

This trend makes sense as a high proportion of the increase in HNWI between 2007 and 2010 was in the Middle East. The number of super rich in the region increased by 10.4pc, the Wealth Report said, with only Africa seeing larger growth, at 11.1pc over the three years.

The number of super rich grew by 8.6pc in the US over the period and by 6.3pc in Europe.

However, although sharp rises in prices may be causing some of the world's HNWI to think twice about splashing out, there is no doubt that prices are likely to remain high for some time – or even reach much higher levels.

The supply side remains very tight. According to research by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), the global supply of rough diamonds has been falling since 2006, reflecting the ageing of some of the world's larger mines and a lack of significant new production being ramped up.

"In part the scarcity of new projects reflects an oversupply of diamonds in the 1990s, which discouraged exploration, and the recent global financial crisis which saw recovering exploration budgets cut sharply, with the result that even the majors have been trimming exploration spending," Des Kilalea of RBC said. "De Beers, for example, used to spend around $100m-$150m (£62m-£93m) annually on exploration and development and now spends less than a third of that, with $43.3m in 2010 on programmes in Angola, Botswana, Canada, India and South Africa," he noted.

Demand for diamonds is likely to continue to strengthen, fuelled by the gentrification of Asia and rising wealth in the Middle East. Traditional markets such as the US and UK will also recover.

According to estimates from De Beers, there was a significant change in the diamond market between 2000 and 2010.

At the turn of the century, the US market accounted for 48pc of diamond jewellery sales, but this fell to 38pc by 2010. India accounted for a statistically insignificant proportion of sales in 2000 – but by 2010 it was consuming 10pc of sales.

RBC expects that China will represent about 20pc of the global market within the next five to seven years, up from 11pc in 2010. According to De Beers, India's demand for diamond jewellery grew 31pc last year and China's grew by 25pc.

So, although there may be fears that high prices will crimp demand, the outlook for diamond producers globally looks pretty sparkling.

Copper shines again after Greece accepts austerity programme

Commodities flourished across the board in the middle of last week, as the Greek vote in favour of austerity measures put riskier assets back in fashion.

"The 'yes' Greek vote brought sighs of relief and reinvigorated risk on market sentiment across various asset classes. The vote took the wind out of safe-haven precious metals, but was broadly good for industrial metals," said Nick Moore of RBS.

Base metals were the biggest winners, with experts saying copper and aluminium ought to see price rises this year. Copper gained 3pc after the Greek vote and is now $9,400 a tonne.

"Now that the worst of the uncertainty surrounding Greece has been dispelled, market players should start to concentrate on fundamental data again.

"Copper still has the best fundamentals of all metals, and we see the price remaining well supported," according to analysts from Commerzbank.

However, poor manufacturing data from China brought a pause to the rally in base metals on Friday.

The weak dollar, which makes commodities cheaper for holders of other currencies, provided some support. But the figures showing China's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for June falling to 50.9 from 52 in May dampened the week's early optimism.
Oil price analysis

The oil price has been volatile since the International Energy Agency said it would release 60m barrels of emergency reserves to the market.

The price of Brent crude fell from $114 to $108 after the move, intended to dampen prices. It subsequently swung back up to $112 and then fell $2 on Friday to just under $110 per barrel.

Analysts said the sharp fall in US stocks was a key reason why the oil price ended the week higher.

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