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Rand tumbles as Eskom sours outlook, stocks flat

Eskom’s power cuts sour sentiment.

The rand weakened past 14 per dollar on Thursday as state-owned power utility Eskom imposed a fifth day of electricity blackouts that have discouraged investors over the economy, days before the annual budget.

At 1510 GMT, the rand was 1.07% weaker at R14.22 per dollar, as it breached R14.00 for the first time in five weeks. The currency has tumbled 4% this week.

“The rand was one the worst performing emerging market currencies on Thursday as growing concerns over Eskom triggered fears about the state of the South African economy,” Hussein Sayed, strategist at forex broker FXTM, said in a note.

“While the local currency is seen depreciating further due to domestic risks, external developments have the ability to limit downside losses. Emerging market currencies are poised to receive a boost if US-China trade talks end on a positive note.”

Eskom said on Thursday it would cut 2 000 megawatts of power from the national grid from 0600 GMT. The cash-strapped utility started implementing controlled power cuts on Sunday as it struggles with coal shortages and breakdowns at some of its plants.

Investors are awaiting more details on how the government plans to shore up Eskom’s balance sheet, details of which will be provided by finance minister Tito Mboweni when he presents the 2019 budget to parliament on February 20.

Eskom poses a threat to the country’s credit rating, which is hanging by a thread with Moody’s, the last of the top three agencies to rate it investment grade.

Bonds have also suffered, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year government issue adding 5 basis points to close at 8.945%.

Stocks were flat, with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s top 40 index down 0.08% to 48,349 points and the broader all-share index down 0.03% to 54,527 points.

Technology company EOH Holdings closed down 12.5%, falling for the third consecutive day following the announcement that technology giant Microsoft had terminated an agreement with the company. Neither EOH nor Microsoft have yet to give a reason.

Poultry producer RCL Foods also saw its share price fall more than 12% after it reported an expected decline in earnings for the past six months.

Meanwhile, consumer-facing firms in the retail and financial sectors, including pharmacist Clicks, insurer Discovery , retailer Truworths and lender Absa led the top 40 index lower. 

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