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Rand flat, stocks retreat as investors await political developments

Banking stocks end recent rally.

The rand was flat on Thursday, taking a breather after a week of volatile trade driven by swirling speculation that President Jacob Zuma would step down before his term ends in 2019.

Stocks were led lower by banking stocks which came off a previous rally on the back of rumours of Zuma’s early exit.

At 1515 GMT the rand was 0.03% firmer at 12.43 per dollar, having opened at 12.43 and weakened to the 12.50 psychological mark before clawing back some ground as economic data from the United States disappointed.

In the previous session the rand briefly slipped to a two-week low of 12.55 after the ruling African National Congress said an early exit for Zuma had not been discussed at a party meeting.

The rand has breached 12.50 three times since the beginning of the year but has failed to close above that level. It has also stopped shy of the 21-day moving average at 12.60, opening the door to gains towards the 12.25 level as investors buy the currency based on trend analysis.

A higher gold price also supported the rand. Gold prices rose on Thursday to near their highest in four months after a hawkish tone in the minutes of a European Central Bank meeting pushed the euro sharply higher against the dollar.

The dollar also weakened after data showed a rise in US jobless claims and a decrease in US producer prices.

Locally, manufacturing figures showed the sector expanded 1.7% in November, a touch higher than forecast, easing pressure on the currency as the economy showed further signs of recovery.

Bonds weakened, with the yield on the government issue due in 2026 adding 1.5 basis points to 8.61%.

On the bourse, the benchmark Top 40 Index fell 0.65% to 52 825 points while the All Share Index lowered 0.62% to 59 606 points.

The banking sector weakened 2.07%, with FirstRand falling 3.11% to R61.04, Nedbank dropping 1.96% to R249.22 and Standard Bank weakening 1.84% to R187.44.

“A lot of them are in over-bought territory … these stocks run up on the premise that Jacob Zuma would be gone or that discussion about him exiting office would be made at the NEC meeting … The market rallied on that assumption,” said Independent Securities trader Ryan Woods. 

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