South African rand, stocks see positive end to difficult year

Imaduddin January 1, 2019

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s rand and stocks edged up in the final trading session of the year on Monday buoyed by hints of progress in trade talks between China and the United States, but that capped off a year of hefty decline for both.

At 1303 GMT the rand traded at 14.3625 per dollar, up 0.43 percent from its close of 14.4250 on Friday.

The main catalyst for the rand and other emerging market currencies was the tariff war between Beijing and Washington, although pressure on the dollar from fading expectations for U.S. interest rate rises also helped.

The trade war between the world’s top two economies has unnerved financial markets and had a mixed impact on the rand, which has lately benefited from signs of a thaw in hostilities between the two countries.

On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump said a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well, creating some demand for high-yield assets such as the rand, which had lost ground to safe-haven assets at the end of the previous week.

For the year, the rand is down nearly 15 percent, making it the fourth worst performer against the dollar, behind the Argentine peso, Turkey’s lira, and the Russian rouble.

Bonds opened firmer, with the yield on the benchmark paper due in 2026 3 basis points lower at 8.865 percent.

Meanwhile, stocks closed higher in the day’s shortened trading session, with Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s (JSE) Top-40 index up 0.5 percent to 46,726 points. The broader all-share index rose 0.56 percent to 52,736 points.

Emerging market stock indexes were also benefiting from tentative optimism around Sino-U.S. trade relations, but investors remained cautious and trading volumes light.

Retailers including Spar Group, TFG and Truworths were among the biggest gainers on the top-40 index, while telecoms giant MTN rose for a fourth day after resolving a dispute with authorities in Nigeria, its biggest market.

Investec led the declines, down 1.2 percent, followed by British American Tobacco and petrochemicals firm Sasol.

South African stocks struggled throughout 2018 with the all-share index closing down 11 percent in its worst annual performance in a decade.

Copyright Reuters, 2019

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