It’s early days yet, but the market pundits are out in full swing. In the United States, the world’s largest diamond market, the country’s National Retail Federation had earlier forecast that retail sales during 2019 will increase between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent to more than $3.8 trillion.
“We believe the underlying state of the economy is sound,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “More people are working, they’re making more money, their taxes are lower and their confidence remains high. The biggest priority is to ensure that our economy continues to grow and to avoid self-inflicted wounds. It’s time for artificial problems like trade wars and shutdowns to end, and to focus on prosperity not politics.”
Recent events would suggest that this may be overly optimistic, but that is not yet evident in the trade data. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, American consumers spent more at retail stores and restaurants in July, with retail purchases rising by 0.7 percent, after a 0.3 percent gain in June. The unemployment rate was near a 50-year low, and wages were still rising, albeit modestly.
But for the diamond industry there are a number of trends that need to be watched carefully.
WINDS OF TRADE WAR GATHER STRENGTH
September 1 was meant to see an escalation in the U.S.-China trade war, with the Americans announcing their intention to impose a 10 percent levy on those products imported by China that weren’t covered in the earlier three rounds of tariffs. They will join a number of items that were already subject to the trade tariff, including gift boxes, jeweler’s balances, beads and scrap.
What this means is that a 10 percent tariff would now apply to rough and polished diamonds, colored gemstones, rough and polished “synthetic gemstones” and other jewelry articles.
In retaliation, China has started to impose additional tariffs of 5 percent and 10 percent on US goods on a $75 billion-target list. Beijing did not specify the value of the goods that face higher tariffs, meaning that it is not yet clear whether jewelry and gemstones will be impacted.
However, what is certain is that, in the short term at least, there will be economic repercussions. Studies have suggested the tariffs will cost the average U.S. household up to $1,000 per annum.
And there may be more to come. The Trump administration has intimated that if the Chinese do not back down, import tariffs could be raised from 10 percent to 25 percent.
September 1 was meant to see an escalation in the U.S.-China trade war, with the Americans imposing a 10 percent levy on those products imported by China that weren’t covered in the earlier three rounds of tariffs including diamond and jewelry items. In retaliation, China started to impose additional tariffs of 5 percent and 10 percent on a $75 billion-target list of U.S. exports, although it was not yet clear whether jewelry and gemstones will be impacted.
A trend to keep an eye is the falling supply of natural rough diamonds, at the same time that supply of laboratory-grown merchandise is increasing very rapidly.
ROUGH SUPPLY FALLS AND SYTHETIC SUPPLY SKYROCKETS
Another trend to keep an eye on is the falling supply of natural rough diamonds, in contrast to the skyrocketing supply of laboratory-grown merchandise. Rough diamond sales by De Beers are more than $1 billion below the same period in 2018, with the lowest total sales value since the company began releasing data in 2016.
Total sales by of rough diamonds De Beers though the end of August equaled $2.91 billion, compared to $3.93 billion at the same time in 2018.
In contrast, according to data supplied by India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), exports of polished laboratory-grown diamonds rose by 94 percent between April and June 2019.
According to GJEPC, some 10 percent of the India’s smaller and medium-sized factories have shifted exclusively processing synthetic goods, which are being supplied predominantly by Chinese labs, but increasing by facilities in the Indian production center of Surat.
The glut in supply of laboratory-grown diamonds is resulting in dramatic fall in prices. This, in time say analysts, is what will draw the real distinction between diamonds sourced in nature and those that are man-made.