We publish courtesy of REUTERS
Author: Julie Gordon
(Reuters) – There may not be snow on the ground yet on Bay Street, but Christmas could come early this year for Canada’s diamond miners who are among the few with the gems to supply growing global demand for high-end jewelry.
In the world’s largest diamond market — the United States — upscale retailers like Tiffany & Co (TIF.N) and Harry Winston (HW.TO) are seeing higher sales as demand for $50,000 engagement rings rebounds.
Diamonds are also the new gold for an emerging upper middle class in China, India and Russia. And they offer a safe-haven substitute for volatile currencies.
Analysts say maximum global diamond extraction rates, or “peak diamond”, have come and gone, with little chance of another massive diamond discovery to replace aging mines.
And while Russia still has $1 billion worth of diamonds stockpiled from the global financial crisis, Moscow has said it does not have plans to start selling them into the open market.
That all adds up to good news for Canadian miners. In 2009, the country was the world’s number three diamond producer, mining $1.47 billion worth of rough stones.
With new discoveries in the Northwest Territories, Quebec and Nunavut, Canada could become the world’s top producer — and with lust growing for the sparkling jewels, analysts expect to see some projects fast-tracked.
“For companies who have real diamond prospects, real potential to mine, it’s going to become easier for them to raise money.” said RBC Capital Markets analyst Des Kilalea. “And that’s going to be quite good for Canada.”
Kilalea said at least two new mines would likely come on line in Canada within the next five years, coincidentally the same timeframe when global diamond production output is expected to start to decline.
“There’s a multitude of Canadian companies that are looking,” he said, listing explorers like Peregrine Diamond (PGD.TO) and Shore Gold (SGF.TO). “So it’s likely to be a growing space for Canadian investors.”
Mountain Province’s 51 million-carat Gahcho Kue mine in the Northwest Territories, which is a joint venture with global diamond giant De Beers, is expected to be in production by 2014.
“Gahcho Kue was the last major discovery, and that was 15 years ago,” said Mountain Province Chief Executive Patrick Evans.
“There are further deposits out there, and further big mines will be discovered,” he said. “The demand for rough diamonds is going to continue to increase.”
Already a driver of global commodity demand, China is seen overtaking the United States in the next decade as the world’s top diamond buyer, thanks largely to a swelling middle class that is increasingly ostentatious in its displays of wealth.
“And that’s when the impact of peak diamond becomes felt in prices,” said RBC Capital Market’s Kilalea.
With disposable income levels on the rise in Asia and Eastern Europe, and as debt worries plague the U.S. dollar and the euro, emerging market investors are also increasingly looking to diamonds as a safe place to store their money.
“They would much rather have pocket full of diamonds and a truck full of gold,” said Paradigm Capital analyst David Davidson. “Hard currency of some nature is better than U.S. dollars.”
Moreover, the rocks are still seen as an investment opportunity, with gold prices at record highs and investors just beginning to see the potential for diamonds.
“It’s one of the sectors that, probably in the last year, hasn’t really caught on like gold and base metals,” he said. “So I think it’s a catch-up trade.”
And the trade is certainly catching up. On Thursday, diamond miner and retailer Harry Winston reported a 192 percent increase in quarterly rough diamond sales.
“Diamond demand in the Far East continues to propel rough diamond prices,” Harry Winston Chief Executive Robert Gannicott said in a statement.
The Canadian miner also saw retail sales soar 48 percent, as the upscale jewelry market in the United States recovered and branding efforts in Asia paid off for its boutique diamond salons.
With holiday shopping already well under way, both diamond retailers and miners expect sales will keep rolling in.
“Its Christmas time,” said Davidson. “Everybody’s going to go out and buy diamonds.”
(Editing by Pav Jordan and Rob Wilson)