South African rand firms on rate hold, dollar weakness; stocks up


JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand firmed to a three-week high against the dollar on Thursday after the central bank left its benchmark repo rate unchanged and the U.S. currency slipped to its lowest since July.

Equities rose for a third session in line with global markets that continued to shrug off lingering concerns over the U.S.-China trade war.

The rand was trading at 14.4275 per dollar at 1542 GMT, up 1.47 percent from Wednesday’s close and its strongest since Aug. 30.

South Africa’s central bank left its benchmark repo rate at 6.5 percent on Thursday, with the bank’s governor striking a more hawkish note than at the last rate meeting in July.

“We think that the pressure for a rate hike that has been welling up in recent months will soon ebb,” said Capital Economics’ senior emerging markets economist John Ashbourne.

“The big falls in the rand are now probably behind us. Indeed, the currency has rebounded since reaching a low point in early September.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will on Friday detail a stimulus package meant to reignite growth, with the economy having shrunk 0.7 percent in the second quarter, unexpectedly tipping the country into its first recession since 2009.

The dollar slipped to its lowest levels since July 9 on concern over the impact of the trade row between China and the United States.

In fixed income, the yield on the benchmark government bond due in 2026 was flat at 9.09 percent.

On the stock exchange, the blue-chip Top-40 index was 0.25 percent firmer at 50,397 points while the all share index was up 0.18 percent at 56,547 points.

A bounce in global stocks on relief that fresh U.S. and Chinese tariffs on reciprocal imports were less harsh than feared continued on Thursday, though investors remained wary about the next steps in the trade war.

Aspen Pharmacare ended a five-day losing streak, rising 2.3 percent after shares slumped on investor concerns about the sale of its baby food unit to France’s Lactalis and concerns over its debt levels.

“Today’s (Aspen Pharmacare) rebound is the market saying that yesterday’s sell-off was probably overdone a bit,” said Michael Treherne, portfolio manager at Vestact.

“For the short term, I don’t see the share price recovering to where it was before last week. The market is a bit more cautious because of their debt levels.”

Telecoms giant MTN closed with a 6.5 percent gain after Nigeria’s central bank said on Wednesday that it was reviewing information provided by the company and four banks about a dispute on the repatriation of dividends.

Reporting by Patricia Aruo; Editing by David Goodman

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