* De Beers also in talks to explore in India's centre-north
* Sentiment at Hong Kong diamond show better than expected
* Rough diamond prices up 2-3 pct year-to-date
By Silvia Antonioli
LONDON, March 24 De Beers, the world's largest
diamond miner by market value, hopes to obtain a concession to
explore in Angola by the end of this year, chief executive
Philippe Mellier said.
The London-based company, majority-owned by global miner
Anglo American, is also holding initial talks with India
about exploring in some areas in the centre-north of the
"We expect to have news about exploration licenses before
the end of this year and we are in contact with the Angolan
government to discuss that. We hope that it's going to be
successful," Mellier told Reuters in an interview last week.
Early stage work in Angola should start later this year, a
spokesman for the company added.
Russia's Alrosa, De Beers' main competitor,
already operates the Catoca mine in Angola, the world's
fourth-largest, in a joint venture with Angola's state-owned
De Beers previously explored for diamonds in Angola between
2005 and 2012 but concluded that a stand-alone deposit in the
area was not economic and relinquished its concession.
It is now going back to explore a new area in the country,
which Mellier said was highly prospective.
Angola is the world's fourth-largest diamond producer by
value, and sixth by volume, and the government is keen to boost
a sector where few companies are currently drilling. But the
country needs to develop transport links and services for mining
companies, and make geological data more accessible, according
to a study published late last year.
ROUGH AND POLISHED
De Beers produced more than 31 million carats of diamonds
last year at its existing operations in South Africa, Botswana,
Namibia and Canada. The Botswana government owns 15 percent of
De Beers, while Anglo American owns the rest.
With underlying operating profit of just over $1 billion in
2013, the diamond miner was the third largest contributor to the
Anglo American's earnings.
De Beers, which mines and distributes rough diamonds and
also manufactures and sells diamond jewelry under its
Forevermark brand, said rough diamond prices rose by about 2-3
percent last year and have increased by a further 2-3 percent
Mellier, a French national who before joining De Beers as
chief executive in 2011 held senior positions at Ford,
Renault and Alstom, said sentiment was
upbeat this month at the Hong Kong international diamond show,
seen as a barometer of the health of the diamond industry.
"The Hong Kong show was pretty good, it was better than last
year. We saw Chinese, Indians, Japanese were buying, and buying
in good numbers," he said.
"Expectations were high, because Chinese New Year was good
and the first feedback I am getting is that it was in line with
expectations or even better."
He said he expected 4-4.5 percent growth in the dollar value
of the world polished diamond market this year.
Retail sales of diamond jewelry were worth more than $72
billion in 2012 while rough diamond production generated
revenues of around $15 billion, according to consulting firm
Bain & Company, the latest available data.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Susan