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De Beers Plans Higher Prices as Anglo Pushes for Returns

Rough Diamonds
De Beers is betting that increased sales in the world’s two largest markets will counter weakness in India, where volatility buying power. Source: De Beers via Bloomberg

De Beers plans to raise diamond prices 5 percent every year, betting demand will help the world’s biggest miner of the precious stones meet parent Anglo American Plc’s target for returns.

“We know the long-term trend, we know demand is going to be bigger than supply,” Chief Executive Officer Philippe Mellier, 58, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s London office. “One of the objectives is more stable prices and to drive volatility out.”

Rough diamond prices gained about 10 percent this year after more than doubling in the past five as the U.S. economy recovered from the global financial crisis and China’s burgeoning middle class bought more of the gems. Anglo American, which owns 85 percent of De Beers, wants its units to deliver a 15 percent return on capital by 2016.

“We have a plan to get there,” Mellier said, adding De Beers returned 10 percent on capital last year. “My team is very focused. It’s our one objective, the objective.”

Diamonds made up about 19 percent of Anglo American’s $33 billion in 2013 sales. Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani, who replaced Cynthia Carroll last year, is reviewing projects from Australia to Brazil in pursuit of savings and cash-flow gains. Anglo rose 1.6 percent to 1,567.5 pence by the close in London.

De Beers predicts global diamond demand will grow 4 percent to 4.5 percent this year. The U.S. market, which accounts for about 37 percent, is forecast to gain in “high single digits” in 2014, while there is “good momentum” in the Chinese market, Mellier said.

Indian Revival

He also expects a revival in India this year after a collapse in the rupee dented sales in 2013. The country’s share of global demand should increase to 10 percent from about 8 percent last year, Mellier said.

De Beers has already raised prices 5 percent and further increases are unlikely this year, he said. That would provide comfort to banks that finance De Beers’ customers. Antwerp Diamond Bank, one of the leading lenders to the industry, said last month it was cutting advances to clients after diamond producers pushed up prices too far.

De Beers sells its diamonds at 10 events each year known as sights. The stones are sold at a price set in black and yellow “sight boxes” to selected customers known as sightholders.

Since appointing Mellier in 2011, the miner has been more aggressive in pricing by cutting the discount between its selling rate and the secondary cash market. De Beers is also overhauling the way it sells diamonds by allocating them based on the financial strength and track records of buyers at earlier offerings.

Oppenheimer Family

Anglo American, based in London, bought the Oppenheimer family’s 40 percent stake in De Beers for $5.1 billion in 2012, increasing its holding to 85 percent and ending the dynasty’s 80-year ownership. Botswana owns the rest of the business, formed by the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes more than 120 years ago.

Mellier is the first outsider to lead the company, which produced 31.2 million carats last year from its mines in Botswana, South Africa, Canada and Namibia. The Frenchman is a mechanical engineer with a background in cars and trains and worked at Alstom SA, Ford Motor Co. and Renault SA before joining the company.

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