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JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's rand firmed on Monday as bets the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates next week continued to boost the currency in the absence of any local economic drivers, on a day dominated by ex-president Jacob Zuma's testimony at a graft inquiry.

At 1700 GMT the rand was 0.45pc firmer at 13.8975 per dollar from a Friday close of 13.9600.

Investors expect the Fed to reduce its key rate by 25 basis points and make another cut in September. Lower yields in the United States boosts demand for riskier high yielding assets like the rand.

Stronger-than-expected economic data from China also spurred risk bets. The world's no.2 economy reported industrial output rebounded in June from a 17-year low in May, while June retail sales surged 9.8pc from a year earlier.

The rand rallied to a five-month high of 13.8200 last week but technical resistance near 13.80 may stall its advance.

"Some of that momentum will start to dissipate and it may well require a fresh catalyst of sorts to assist the rand in making back more lost ground," analysts at Investec said in a note.

"From a valuation perspective, the ZAR still finds itself undervalued and capable of recovering still further."

Bonds firmed, with the yield on the benchmark 2026 government issue down 5 basis points at 8.04pc.  Former president Zuma struck a defiant tone at the public inquiry into maladministration during his nine-year tenure, saying he was the victim of a "character assassination" by enemies who had tried to get rid of him for more than 20 years.

Zuma, who was pushed out by the governing African National Congress (ANC) in February 2018 and replaced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is seen to still to yield power inside the party, particularly with the faction opposing Ramaphosa's reform agenda.

Zuma has consistently denied wrongdoing.

On the bourse, stocks rose following encouraging production data out of China on Monday boosting emerging markets.

The benchmark JSE Top-40 Index was up 0.5pc to 51,447.25 points while the broader All-Share Index crept up 0.27pc to 57,432.75 points.

Tech heavyweight Naspers was among the leaders on the blue-chip index, jumping 2.43pc to 3,488.61 rand after strong gains by internet company Tencent Holdings where it holds a 31 percent stake.

Among the losers pharmaceuticals company Aspen tumbled 3.77pc and luxury goods firm Richemont dipped 1.49pc.

"[The rand is] fairly strong at the moment ... that's amongst the strongest levels we've seen in a month and that will be weighing on some of the rand-centred stocks," said trader at GT247 Nilan Morar.

Copyright Reuters, 2019