The Colombian Peso Syndrome

Just as the North American emerald market was finally regaining consumer confidence, the price of Colombian emeralds has gone up. But price gouging isn’t the reason. In fact, by some calculations, U.S. retailers should be paying at least 45 percent more for their goods.

The problem for Colombian emerald dealers is that the dollar has been weakening since January 2004, decreasing in value by almost 35 percent. (In December 2003, a dollar bought 2,965 Colombian pesos; by December 2005, a dollar bought only 2,270 pesos.) Meanwhile, the cost of living in Colombia is increasing approximately 5 percent annually. International buyers typically offer 35 percent below asking prices. But prices, already at an effective 35 percent discount because of the weak dollar, are remaining firm.

A shortage of goods, partly the result of a shortage of available dynamite, has contributed to the problems. Apparently, some of the dynamite sold to mines was used in terrorist bombings in downtown Bogotá. In response, the Colombian government curtailed the distribution of working dynamite, which idled miners four to six months.

Finally, according to unconfirmed reports, some controlling mine interests are withholding goods from the market to drive up prices.