Once the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, the industry was expected to see a third shaved off its top-line this fiscal. However, this could now get arrested at around 20%. Sluggish demand and extended lockdowns globally saw exports plunge to $5.5 billion in the first half, almost halving on-year. In the third quarter, however, exports have risen to an estimated monthly average of $1.6 billion, setting the industry up for a tryst with the $15 billion mark for the full year.
Subodh Rai, Chief Ratings Officer, CRISIL Ratings said “Trends in recent months have been encouraging. Retail sales in the US and China have grown by about 3-5%, which would provide the industry sustained momentum over the medium term. While there are new lockdowns in some parts of the EU, the launch of Covid-19 vaccines across the globe is expected to mitigate a massive disruption hereon.” The analysis factors inputs from CRISIL’s rated portfolio of 70 polished diamond exporters, which represent close to 30% of the industry.
At the start of the fiscal, the industry was grappling with significant build-up of inventory – comprising both roughs and polished diamonds — over the previous seven months. While prices of roughs had remained firm, weak demand meant the prices of polished diamonds were falling, thus setting the industry up for significant inventory losses. Amid the weak demand scenario, however, the miners reduced the prices of roughs by almost 10% around the end of the second quarter. With demand also on the rise gradually, the prices of polished diamonds increased by almost 2% in the third quarter. This helped the industry wipe out a portion of the operating losses of the first half. With prices now stabilising, operating profitability is expected to remain intact for the full year.
Rahul Guha, Director, CRISIL Ratings said, “Added to this, cash-flow challenges have receded. Following the significant reduction in sales in the peak lockdown period of the first quarter, Indian diamantaires had focussed on streamlining collections and reducing inventory levels. This is borne out by the average receivables period and inventory period, which are just over 2 months and 5 months today compared with well over 3 months and 7 months, respectively, at the end of the first quarter.”
Typically, Indian polishers start building inventory from the end of second quarter and into the third to keep up with the sharp sales surge starting November every fiscal with festivals across the globe also coinciding with the Chinese New Year. That hasn’t happened this fiscal as the industry was focussing on clearing its already stocked-up inventory. That said, intermittent liquidity challenges have been supported by timely extension of due dates on post-shipment credit by Indian banks. The industry’s approach to structurally correct its working capital cycles on a sustained basis will, however, remain a key monitorable.