By Michelle Graff
An aerial view of Rio Tinto’s Diavik diamond mine in Canada taken this past winter; the mining company reported that its diamond sales were down 23 percent year-over-year in the first half of the year. (Photo courtesy of Rio Tinto)
London--Rio Tinto saw its rough diamond sales slide 23 percent through the first six months of the year, noting the same issues in the diamond market as the industry’s other major miners. 

In reporting its first half results Thursday, Rio Tinto said that rough diamond sales generated gross revenue of $331 million in the first half of 2015, down from $431 million in the first half of 2014. 

The strength of the U.S. dollar, however, boosted net earnings from diamonds, which nearly doubled, climbing from $18 million to $31 million. 

Rio Tinto’s rough diamond sales slide mirrors that of De Beers and Alrosa, both of which reported their first half results last month. 

In its half-year results, the company hit upon what has become a familiar refrain for the struggling diamond industry: lower rough prices due in part to slumping sales in India and China, too much inventory in the pipeline and low margins for manufacturers.

While sales fell, first half production climbed 18 percent, from 7.5 million carats to 8.9 million carats. Production has ramped up at the new underground portion of the Argyle mine, offsetting lower carats recovered at Diavik. 

Rio Tinto’s first half production figures encompassed rough mined at three locations, the Diavik mine in Canada, Argyle in Western Australia and Murowa in Zimbabwe. Going forward, however, Murowa no longer will be included in Rio Tinto’s production as the company announced in June that it was selling its interest in that mine

Rio Tinto said it expects to mine 20 million carats of diamonds this year, which would top last year’s production of 13.9 million carats.

In an overview of its first-half results for all sectors, not just diamonds, Rio Tinto said that it sees the current economic weakness as cyclical and expects it to pass. However, commodity demand growth will be slower than it was in the past decade, and mining companies will focus on cutting costs rather than project development.

In this “new normal,” Rio Tinto said that “producers at the lower end of the cost curve will maintain their competitive advantage, but higher-cost producers will be exposed.”  

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