S.Africa’s rand tumbles to 11-week low as coronavirus, power cuts weigh

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand kept tumbling on Friday, sliding to a new 12-week low after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global emergency, compounding local economic issues faced by the currency.

South African Rand coins are seen in this photo illustration taken on September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo
State firm Eskom, a major threat to growth and government’s balance sheet as it struggles to service its 450 billion rand debt, said on Friday nationwide blackouts would continue as it carried out long-delayed maintenance on its creaking fleet coal plants.

At 1500 GMT the rand was 1.31% weaker at 14.9580 per dollar, its worst level since Nov. 11, bringing losses for the week to nearly 4% – the worst amongst emerging market peers, which also suffered as investors dumped risk assets for safer bets.

BNP Paribas economist Jeffrey Schultz said that although concern about the coronavirus outbreak was the major factor driving the market, news that power cuts were continuing added further pressure.

“This has made markets quite nervous considering the already-weak growth outlook going into the February budget,” said Schultz.

Eskom resumed power cuts on Thursday evening and said on Friday it would keep throttling supply to the grid through the weekend, as it struggled to replace the emergency capacity it used this week.

Bonds bucked the trend, with yields falling on the benchmark bonds. The yield on the 2030 fell 2.5 basis points to 8.98%.

Analysts said the country’s shorter-dated debt remained under pressure and demand for longer-dated issue was also coming under pressure, reflecting the high real return, around 5%, but growing investor concerns about the economy.

“The curve is pretty steep right now. Government rolling over debt to the belly of the curve. But demand at the vanilla auction on Tuesday was really weak. That reflects how cautious or apprehensive investors are to take on our debt despite the attractive yields,” said Kieran Siney of ETM Analytics.

“The demand won’t last forever. If the finance minister doesn’t implement the necessary reforms out fiscal degradation is just going to accelerate.”

Stocks closed lower, with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s Top-40 index falling 0.95% to 50,072 points, and the broader all-share index dropping 0.9% to 56,079 points.

Gold companies made up the majority of the blue-chip stocks that gained on Friday, with Goldfields, Sibanye-Stillwater and AngloGold Ashanti rising 2.63%, 2.46% and 2.1%, respectively.

The biggest loser of the top-40 index was petrochemicals group Sasol, which fell 6.8% after it warned its first-half profits would be lower and cut its earnings outlook from its troubled chemicals project in the United States.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Emma Rumney, editing by Louise Heavens

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