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Belgium's September imports and exports show fragile recovery continuing

12 october 2009

Belgium's imports and exports of rough and polished diamonds in September, as the world looked back 12 months to the start of the financial crisis, showed continuing stability as a result of increasing demand for diamonds. The statistics appear to show that the fledgling recovery, while gradually gathering strength, remains fragile. With the vital Christmas sales season about to start in the United States, the market is anxiously waiting to see the strength of U.S. consumer jewellery purchases.

In September, Belgian polished exports amounted to 796,649 carats with a value of $1.04 billion, according to data published by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre Diamond Office.

The exports were 10.9 percent and 25.2 percent lower, respectively, on September 2008, and an improvement on the August figures. For the three-quarters of the year, Belgium exported 5.36 million carats of polished goods with a value of $6.33 billion, declines of 21.4 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively, on the same period of 2008, and slightly better than the January-August statistics.

The United States remains the main export destination for Belgian diamonds, although it accounted for just 26.7 percent of Belgium's polished diamonds in financial terms in September. For the January-September period, exports to the United States were down 26.1 percent and 36.6 percent in volume and financial terms respectively, a slight worsening on the figures for August.

Hong Kong was the second-largest importer of Belgian polished stones, and, as in the past few months, one of just two markets showing a rise in carat terms for the first nine months of the year, the other being India. In September, Hong Kong imported 21.8 percent more diamonds at 235,082 carats, with a value 23.6 percent higher at $425.1 million, although these figures were clearly impacted by the effect of the Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair that took place late last month.

Israel was again the third-largest importer of Belgian gems, with a slight rise in volume, but a sharp fall in financial terms, indicating a decline in price per carat. Israel was followed by Switzerland, the UAE, India, the U.K., China, Italy, the United Kingdom and France.

In polished diamond imports, Belgium bought 705,556 carats, a fall of 23.4 percent from last year, while the diamonds' value was $816.3 million, 37.7 percent lower than in September 2008. For the first nine months of 2009, polished diamond imports were 27.8 percent lower at 5.56 million carats, and 39.2 percent lower in financial terms at $5.84 billion. The figures both on the month and for the January-September period were an improvement on the respective periods last year.

Meanwhile, rough diamond exports last month amounted to 9.98 million carats worth $749.3 million, drops of 6.7 percent and 32.1 percent respectively from September 2008. In the first three-quarters of this year, exports declined 33.7 percent to 65.7 million carats, and by 45.8 percent to $5.03 billion. The figures both for September and for the first nine months of the year were better than August and the first eight months of this year.

In the rough diamond imports category, Belgium brought in 7.78 million carats of rough goods with a value of $621.8 million in September, declines of 34.3 percent and 44.5 percent, respectively on September 2008. In the January-September period, rough diamond imports dropped by 33.1 percent to 61.9 million carats, and by 51.3 percent to $4.41 billion.

Alex Shishlo, Editor of the Rough&Polished European Bureau in Brussels