Photo credit: Anantachai Saothong on Unsplash.com.
All eyes are generally focused on the U.S. economy, and especially those of those of the diamond industry, which makes more than half its sales each year, at least in terms of value, as the song says, from sea to shining sea. For many, this current year provides a confusing picture, in part because the economic data are a deceptive, and in part because its depends on who is interpreting them.
2022 is a mid-term election year in the United States, which typically means gains for the party in opposition, although this election may still prove to an exception. The Republicans, who hope to regain the upper hand in the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate as well, have a vested interest in the playing up the economic impact of the high rates of inflation being experienced at present, while for their part the Democrats talk of an inherently solid economy, with healthy rates of employment and consumer confidence.
Traditionally, an economy is considered to be in recession when it experiences two consecutive quarters of negative growth. During the first quarter of 2022, according to figures provided by the Department of Commerce, U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by an annualized 1.6 percent, and during the second quarter by a further 0.6 percent. The latter figure was actually revised upward from 0.9 percent.
As stated, two sequential quarterly decreases in GDP would ordinarily indicate that the economy is in recession, but economists are reluctant to describe it as such. To some degree this may be politically motivated, given the mid-term election in November, but they also cite counter-intuitive gains recorded in the labor market, retail sales and industrial production. This they say, according to a Reuters report, may suggest a slow pace of expansion as opposed to a downturn.
Confused? You’re not the only one.
POSSIBLY A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
So what about the U.S. diamond market? Until recently, it was headed in only one direction and that was upward. There may be signs, however, although they are very tentative, of a change in direction.
According to Tenoris, a new jewelry and gemstone trends analytics company, established by veteran market watcher Edahn Golan, and Chris Casey, a former vice president of the Nielsen Jewelry Group, publisher of National Jeweler and Europa Star, after two-year of almost uninterrupted gains, U.S. jewelry and diamond sales have started to slow.
The total value of finished jewelry sold in July decreased by 6.6 percent, they reported, and unit sales were down 13.5 percent from July 2021. Year-to-date retail value was 9.1 percent year on year, which is slightly more than the annual 8.5 percent inflation rate reported at the end of July, although it had receded from a rate of 9.1 percent in June. Unit sales declined 3.9 percent, they reported.
But even Tenoris is reluctant to declare the the latest data as indicating a a trend – “at least not yet,” they state.
“Since the COVID outbreak in February 2020, consumer demand had been veering off the beaten path,” they explain on their website, noting that, during the first half of 2022, sales were generally higher year over year.
BRIGHT SPOTS REMAIN
The one section of the market that is noticeably weaker is bridal, where Tenoris, with the value of all jewelry sell falling by 15.6 percent from the equivalent period in 2021, and sale of units down 14 percent. The state of diamond bridal was even worse, with value down 18.4 percent and units down 19 percent, Tenoris reported.
As a result, reported Tenoris, polished diamond prices slipped in July, down 3 percent at retail month over month, although still 9 percent higher than where they were in in July 2021. Retail prices of 1-caraters were up 0.5 percent, but particularly steep decline were reported in the 1.50-1.59 carats and 2.50-2.74 carat price ranges.
But there were bright spots as well. High-end jewelry was one them, reporting strong gains, as were fashion rings.
In the case of the latter, lab-grown diamond bridal jewelry was clearly a winner, showing an annualized 81.7 percent increase in value, and in July along were up 8 percent by value and 6.9 percent in units.
“Lab-grown continues to be a growth market despite and, at times, because of LG’s declining prices,” said Golan, Tenoris co-managing partner.