The Strategist

Hit by falling oil prices, Venezuela gets on with gold and diamond mining

08/29/2016 - 12:53

Venezuela has attracted more than $ 5.5 billion investments in mining projects located at the southern end of the country, said President Nicolas Maduro.

"Today we are signing an agreement on investments and liabilities of 5.5 billion dollars" – Maduro’s statement at a meeting with foreign investors quoted by Mexican Portal El Economista. The main investors are Canadian Barrick Gold Corp, the world's largest gold producer, and Chinese Shandong Gold.

Last week, Maduro told that the country signed a number of investment contracts in the Venezuelan mining industry. The contracts gathered 4.5 billion dollars altogether. Thus, the total amount of investment is already $ 10 billion. They will be directed to development of a prospective mining field in the Orinoco region. Previously, Maduro promised that total investment in the region would reach $ 20 billion.

Venezuela has significant reserves of gold and diamonds in the south of the country, yet it was not possible to attract sufficient investment in the region before. In recent years, when the country's oil revenues dropped significantly, the Venezuelan authorities tried to find additional sources of funds to the treasury by diversifying its oil-oriented economy.

Since the beginning of the year, price per ounce of gold has increased by almost a third, to 29.6%. This year, investors are seemingly in hurry to buy gold. In the first half of 2016, demand reached almost historic high of 2,355 tons, according to World Gold Council (WGC). At that, investors bought two-thirds of world production of the precious metal (about 1.55 tons). Industrial and jewelry demand thus declined.

The diamond industry, once on the rise due to technical demand, is now developing thanks to jewelers. Synthetic diamonds for industrial use are now cheaper than natural gems. Today, the technical industry uses 99% of synthetic diamonds, which were first introduced 65 years ago. 95% natural raw materials account for jewelry demand. 

During economic downturns, consumers first try to save on luxury goods. Drop in demand for diamonds is reflected in the entire industrial chain, and leads to lessening in supply of raw diamonds. For example, in the crisis year of 2009, when demand dived by 40%, prices have fallen by 20%, while the world's diamond production fell by almost a third. Since then, the industry has not managed to reach level of the mid-2000s, when 176 million carats of raw materials were mined annually. So, the world miners in 2014 produced 131.1 million carats of diamonds worth $ 13.8 billion, of which 125 million were gem quality. Their handling and cutting were estimated at $ 23 billion, and annual retail sales of diamond jewelry market were about 75 billion dollars. In this case the average world price for rough diamonds fell by 7% for the years 2013-2014, and reached 103 dollars per carat at the beginning of 2015. 

Venezuela's economy, more than 90% dependent on oil prices, is on the verge of collapse due to low oil prices. According to Maduro, the country's revenues from hydrocarbon exports fell by 62%.

Lately, oil accounted for approximately 96% of Venezuelan exports. Its price, declining on the world’s markets since mid-2014, has sparked a series of food crises in the country, as Venezuela has no money to import food.

Inflation in Venezuela since September 2014 to September 2015 amounted to 141.5%. The Central Bank of Venezuela reported that GDP decreased by 7.1% in the third quarter of last year.