The De Beers Group today announced its annual results for 2017, showing high volumes of production and sales offset by a lower value mix of goods, leading to a 4% reduction in total revenue to $5.8 billion from $6.1 billion 2016. The company attributes the decline at least in part to, "the benefit of strong midstream restocking in the first half of 2016." Despite the decline in revenue, the company's underlying EBITDA increased by 2% to $1,435 million (2016: $1,406 million) as they reduced capital expenditure by 48% to $273 million (2016: $526 million), mainly owing to the completion of major projects. De Beers says their strong overall financial performance was driven by improved margins, which benefited from lower unit costs (supported by higher production and efficiency drives across the business), a strong contribution from Canada (driven by Gahcho Kué’s ramp-up and the closure of Snap Lake), and Element Six (which benefited from a recovery in oil and gas markets). This was partly offset by unfavourable exchange rates.
The average realised rough diamond price decreased by 13% to $162/carat (2016: $187/carat), "mainly owing to a lower value mix; this was partly offset by an 8% increase in consolidated sales volumes to 32.5 million carats (2016: 30.0 million carats),which reflected stronger demand for lower-value goods in Sight 1 of 2017, following a recovery from the initial impact of India’s demonetisation programme in late 2016, as well as the ramp-up of production from lower value per carat but high margin operations, including Orapa and Gahcho Kué. The lower-value mix was compensated in part by a higher average rough price index, which was 3% above that of 2016."
Operating performance - Mining and manufacturing
De Beers increased its rough diamond production by 22% to 33.5 million carats (2016: 27.3 million carats), "reflecting stronger underlying trading conditions as well as the contribution from the ramp-up of Gahcho Kué." They summarize the boom in production as follows: Botswana (Debswana) increased production by 11% to 22.7 million carats (2016: 20.5 million carats). Production at Orapa was 28% higher, mainly driven by planned increases in plant performance and the ramp-up of Plant 1, which was previously on partial care and maintenance in response to trading conditions in late 2015. In June 2017, Jwaneng processed its first ore from Cut-8, which is expected to become the mine’s main source of ore during 2018.
In Namibia (Namdeb Holdings), production increased by 15% to 1.8 million carats (2016: 1.6 million carats), primarily owing to higher production from Debmarine Namibia’s Mafuta vessel, driven by higher mining rates following an extended scheduled in-port during 2016. At Namdeb’s land operations, production rose by 6%, despite challenging conditions, including grade variability owing to the nature of alluvial deposits, structural cost pressures, and some operations nearing the end of their lives.
In South Africa (DBCM), production increased by 23% to 5.2 million carats (2016: 4.2 million carats), primarily owing to Venetia, driven by higher grades as well as improved operational performance benefiting tonnes treated. Construction continues on the Venetia Underground mine, which is expected to become the mine’s principal source of production during 2023.
In Canada, production increased to 3.8 million carats (2016: 1.0 million carats) owing to the ramp-up of Gahcho Kué, which entered commercial production in March 2017. During the year, Gahcho Kué benefited from higher than expected grades, partly offset by a lower average value of production. Owing to the differences in lobe characteristics across different kimberlite pipes, the average grade and realised price will continue to vary and will be dependent on the area mined. Production at Victor increased by 21% to 0.7 million carats as a result of higher grades. Victor, which has been operating successfully since 2008, is due to close in 2019, when the open pit is expected to have been depleted. The closure of Snap Lake, which is currently on care and maintenance, is progressing, with flooding having been completed, thereby minimising holding costs while preserving the long term viability of the orebody.
Other revenue includes Element Six, which grew strongly, driven primarily by a recovery in the oil and gas business but also supported by the automotive and consumer electronics segments.
De Beers Group anticipates analysis will show that consumer demand for diamond jewelry saw positive growth in 2017 in US dollar terms, following a marginal increase in 2016. They note that, "Sustained diamond jewellery demand growth in the US was once again the main contributor to this positive outcome. Demand for diamond jewellery by Chinese consumers grew marginally, in local currency and dollar terms. In contrast, consumer demand for diamonds softened in India and the Gulf states, both in local currency and dollar terms, while Japan’s consumer demand growth was flat in local currency and lower in dollars."
Diamond producers’ primary stocks are estimated to have reduced considerably during the first half of 2017, as sentiment in the midstream improved and rough and polished inventories normalised for businesses in this segment of the value chain. However, as a result of US retailers tightly managing their inventories and the earlier timing of Diwali in India, there was a slight seasonal build-up of polished inventory in the midstream going into the fourth quarter. Overall, early indications are that additional consumer marketing undertaken during the main selling season had a positive effect on polished demand in the US, China and India in the final quarter of the year, leading to a positive impact on overall polished inventories.
Looking forward, they say that diamond production for 2018 is expected to go even higher, up to 34-36 million carats, subject to trading conditions. They write that, "Improving global macro-economic conditions remain supportive of consumer demand growth for polished diamonds in 2018. The degree of global economic growth, however, will be dependent upon a number of factors, including the extent of the positive impact on growth in consumer spending from US tax cuts, the strength of the dollar on consumer demand in non-dollar-denominated countries, and how successfully China manages its adjustment to a more domestic consumer-driven economy."