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randJOHANNESBURG: South African government bond yields tracked lower on Wednesday, pushed down by more offshore buying and domestic market expectations of a moderation in inflation that may allow the central bank room to cut interest rates this year.

The rand was slightly weaker at 8.1872/dolar at 0630 GMT compared to a 8.1685 close in New York, and dealers said it would trade in a 8.16-8.24 range ahead of a central bank interest rate decision on Thursday.

The yield on the benchmark 2026 bond dropped to 7.41 percent, its lowest since January 2009, while the three-year and nine-year bonds were close to Tuesday's record lows at 5.68 percent and 6.765 percent respectively.

The yield differential between the two benchmarks - the R186/R157 spread - narrowed to 170 basis points, levels last seen two months ago, as offshore pension funds showed a preference for the higher-yielding back end of the curve.

Adding to the rally in the long-maturity bonds is government's cancellation in the past two weeks of its weekly switch auctions, where it exchanges paper maturing in two years for bonds at the longer end of the curve.

The move has caused a relief rally at the longer end, which was previously weighed by oversupply concerns.

The last switch sale on June 28 had a poor take-up and Treasury has opted to stay out of the market since then.

If inflation and retail sales data due at 0800 GMT and 1100 GMT respectively print softer than expected, it could add to expectations for a rate cut later this year.

"There is a lot riding on today's numbers, with the market split 50/50 as to whether Gill Marcus will cut after the end of the MPC meeting tomorrow," said Standard Bank trader Warrick Butler.

"An inflation number below 5.5 percent will cause the market to price it in a lot more than it is doing so far."

Economists polled by Reuters expect annual inflation to ease to 5.6 percent in June from 5.7 percent previously.

Retail sales are seen jumping to 4.8 percent in May from a meagre 1 percent previously.

Copyright Reuters, 2012