By Michelle Graff
A variety of colored diamonds of “a good quality and comparatively high value” recovered by De Beers (Namdeb) off the coast of Namibia. The company sold less rough by volume but for a higher average realized price in 2018. (Image © PMP/ De Beers 2011)
London—De Beers’ sales increased in 2018 but profits tumbled due to the money it spent on initiatives like Lightbox and Tracr, its blockchain platform.

Parent company Anglo American reported Thursday that total revenue for De Beers Group in 2018 rose 4 percent year-over-year to $6.10 billion, compared with $5.84 billion in 2017.

The company sold less rough by volume—31.7 million carats vs. 32.5 million carats in 2017—but for a higher average realized price, $162 per carat to $171 per carat, as sales of lower-value diamonds dropped off in the second half of the year.

Revenue classified as “other,” which includes industrial diamond arm Element Six (the company making the diamonds for Lightbox, the lab-grown jewelry line) and De Beers’ jewelry stores, also increased due to improved sales of high-end pieces at De Beers Jewellers, though Element Six’s sales were down 5 percent due to a drop-off in demand for industrial diamonds from the oil and gas market.

Underlying EBITDA fell 13 percent, from $1.44 billion to $1.25 billion.

De Beers said while it maintained unit costs and upstream profit margins, the money it spent to launch Lightbox Lightbox, blockchain platform Tracr and GemFair, its pilot program for tracking diamonds mined artisanally or on a small scale, ate into profit as did increased expenditure in marketing, exploration and evaluation in Canada.

De Beers said worldwide, preliminary data indicates consumers bought more jewelry in dollar terms in 2018, with the first half of the year finishing particularly strong.

However, demand slowed in the second half due to increased “political and policy uncertainty” and volatility in the stock market. This mirrors what jewelers told National Jeweler at the recent Centurion show—that business dropped off in December after the stock market took a dive.

De Beers also noted that the midstream sector of the market—diamond cutters and polishers—had a difficult second half due to weak demand for and surplus availability of lower-priced rough, the rapid depreciation of the rupee and inability to get bank financing.

In 2019, it said while current economic forecasts remain positive, consumer demand for diamond jewelry globally “faces a number of headwinds,” including escalating trade tensions between the United States and China, and further exchange rate volatility.
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Production-wise, De Beers mined 35.3 million carats of rough in 2018, rising 6 percent from 2017 but falling at the low end of the production prediction for the year (35-36 million carats).

Botswana remained De Beers’ top-producing nation by far, pumping out 24.1 million carats of diamonds, up 6 percent from 22.7 million last year due in part to the restart of operations at Damtshaa.

Production fell 10 percent in South Africa, from 5.2 to 4.7 million carats, while rising in both Canada and Namibia.

In Canada, De Beers mined 4.5 million carats of diamonds last year, up from 3.8 million in 2017 due to the full-year contribution from the new Gahcho Kué mine and the last push of production at Victor, which is slated to close in the first half of this year.

Production in Namibia totaled 2.0 million carats, up from 1.8 million carats in 2017.

Looking ahead to 2019, De Beers said it expects production to be lower, in the range of 31 to 33 million carats, subject to trading conditions.

More of De Beers’ production will come from the mines in which it has joint venture partners in 2019, and it also will see production drop off at the Venetia mine in South Africa as it scales back ahead of the closure of the open-pit portion of that operation.

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