Your essential companion to this week's big events

The CSO
Real name?

Clacton Symphony Orchestra?

No, really ...

Central Selling Organisation - known to insiders as the Producers Club and to outsiders as the Diamond Cartel. Also called by its corporate parent's name, De Beers.

Why is it in the news?

It's revealing its sales figures for the first half of the year on Wednesday. They're the totals from the last five sights. Analysts expect the figure to be about $2.5bn (pounds 1.6bn), down $15m from this time last year.

Sights?

What else would you call it when gem merchants go to collect their boxes of uncut diamonds?

Who runs it?

The chairman of De Beers is Julian Ogilvie Thompson, but the real power is the Oppenheimer family, headed by deputy chairman Nicky Oppenheimer. They bought the company in 1929 with the help of South African gold miners Anglo American.

Why is this set of figures special?

They're the first ones since peace was declared with Russia in the Ice War - the precious gem world's belated follow-up to the

Cold War.

Who won?

It depends on whose history you read. De Beers and the CSO appear to have kept their syndicate in almost one piece, while the Russians have won some key concessions. The big question these results should answer is whether Siberian diamonds are still leaking on to the market.

I didn't know diamonds leaked.

Russia is the world's second biggest producer of diamonds after De Beers itself, and in the chaotic circumstances surrounding the renegotiation of its contract with the CSO some diamonds mysteriously made it to Antwerp by themselves.

Was that a big problem?

It meant that the cartel had to cuts the production quotas for other members by 15 per cent. which led to other problems.

Such as?

One of their members, the Australian producer Argyle, has just announced that it is pulling out. De Beers says it isn't too worried, though. For while Argyle's production makes up 6 per cent of the market by value, its diamonds are mostly the kind you put on to drill bits rather than women's fingers.

Anything else?

Yes, a diamond mountain that makes the EU's butter mountain look soft. The stockpile is worth $4.6bn, equal to a year's sales for the cartel.

I thought cartels were a bad thing.

This time it depends on which economics text you read. If you're a fan of Adam Smith, market forces, consumer power, that sort of thing, then yes, cartels are bad.

And the other view?

If you like Sir James Goldsmith and think that helping producers shore up prices so they can keep on producing incredibly valuable baubles, then cartels - at least this one - are good.

It sounds a bit like Opec.

Now you've got it!

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