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JOHANNESBURG: The South African rand firmed in afternoon trade on Thursday, supported by an improvement in investors' risk appetite, as talk of renewed US-China trade negotiations calmed investor nerves.Stocks rose, led by retailers.

At 1540 GMT the rand was 0.84pc firmer at 15.2875 per dollar.

"A combination of a stronger global market; less global risk concerns would be strengthening the rand at these levels.

It's a risk-on trade generally, all emerging markets are up this afternoon," said Gary McNamara, portfolio manager at Sanlam Private Wealth.

"And there seems to be a little more positive sentiment in terms of potential trade negotiations between China and America, but that comes and goes," said McNamara.

China's commerce ministry said on Thursday that China and the United States are discussing the next round of face-to-face trade talks scheduled in September, but hopes for progress hinge on whether Washington can create favourable conditions.

South Africa's economy relies on exports to China and the United States for a bulk of its revenue, and the trade spat between the two risks denting the country's already dim economic prospects.

The South African Revenue Service will publish July trade balance numbers on Friday.

In fixed income, the yield on the benchmark 10-year issue was flat at 8.195pc.

On the bourse, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange's All-Share index gained 0.29pc to 54,441 points, while the benchmark Top-40 index rose 0.27pc to 48,561 points.

Leading the blue-chip index higher was food and clothing retailer Woolworths which gained 3.61pc to 53.93 rand after it cheered investors with a turnaround at its fashion, beauty and home business.

South Africa's Massmart also gained 7.86pc to 42.55 rand, with investors encouraged by a plan to arrest falling profits after the retailer suffered its first half-year loss in two decades.

Shares of food supplier Bidcorp increased 2.64pc to 319.20 rand after it said full-year profit rose 12.5pc on Wednesday.

"[Woolworths and Massmart] had trading updates previously so the earnings didn't come as a surprise, and the Woolworth food side did better than expected," said McNamara.

Copyright Reuters, 2019