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Is now the time to look closely at diamond exploration shares?

Paradoxically, the junior explorers have held their value better than the producers

Anglo American PLC -

Selling prices for 0.3 carat and 0.5 carat diamonds have risen by nearly 15% on a year-on-year basis, according to the RapNet diamond index, a data aggregator run by industry specialist Rapaport.

The index also shows one carat stones are now trading at roughly the same levels they were at a year ago, while larger three carat stones remain weaker, currently priced around 5% lower than at the corresponding time in 2019.

The world’s leading diamond company, DeBeers, owned by Anglo American (LON:AAL) has also recently sounded an upbeat note in regard to pricing.

The company’s sixth sales cycle for 2020 remained weaker than the sixth in 2019, but provisional sales for the seventh show an increase in value of stones sold to US$320mln, up from US$287mln realised in the corresponding cycle in 2019.

The cycles are being structured slightly differently due to coronavirus restrictions, but the consensus seems to be that the market is picking up as economic activity gradually resumes after the coronavirus shutdowns.

DeBeers cited strong pent-up retail demand, especially in China and the USA, but also sounded a note of caution.

“It's clear that the recovery is at an early stage and we expect that it will take some time to get back to pre-Covid-19 levels of demand,” said DeBeers chief Bruce Cleaver.

Nonetheless, the news will cheer other, smaller producers and explorers in the industry. Some are looking very fragile indeed, following the combined impacts of years of weak pricing and the coronavirus shutdowns – Firestone Diamonds has withdrawn its listing, while Petra Diamonds (LON:PDL) has been teetering on the brink as it struggles to make its cashflow cover its huge debt pile.

Other companies, though, like Gem Diamonds (LON:GEMD), and BlueRock Diamonds (LON:BRD) look fit to weather the storm. Gem has been boosted by the recovery of some larger stones at its Letseng mine in Lesotho recently, while BlueRock orchestrated a creative pre-selling deal earlier in the crisis, which allowed it to safeguard cashflows at only a modest discount.

Elsewhere, explorers like Karelian (LON:KDR), continue to make the most of funding windows where they can. But the market for the pureplay explorers over the past year hasn’t been too punishing. Karelian’s shares have nearly doubled. Shares in Botswana Diamonds (LON:BOD) are broadly flat.

Quick facts: Anglo American PLC

Price: 1871.4 GBX

LSE:AAL
Market: LSE
Market Cap: £25.51 billion
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