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Africa, Forex

South Africa’s rand firms as yield hunt outweighs fiscal pressures

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand firmed early on Wednesday ahead of consumer inflation data, shaking off a growth downgrade by the International Monetary Fund and a bailout for power firm Eskom that could add pressure to the country’s finances.

At 0650 GMT the rand was 0.25% firmer at 13.8950 per dollar, reversing the previous session’s modest slide as the greenback rebounded on Tuesday.

The IMF in its World Economic Update slashed its 2019 economic growth expectation for South Africa to 0.7% from 1.2% in April.

Also on Tuesday, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni told parliament the government would give cash-strapped state power firm Eskom an extra 59 billion rand ($4.24 billion).

While the initial currency reaction was muted, the plan has eased concerns the utility could drag the sovereign credit rating into junk.

But Mboweni’s warning that 2019/20 tax revenues could be “significantly lower” than budgeted for and that the government may need to borrow more than planned has cooled demand and put markets on edge.

However the rand, supported by low inflation and relatively high lending rates, has continued to draw investors searching for high-yielding alternatives to developed market rates.

These are set go even lower, with the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve preparing to cut rates this month.

“No one seems to care that November is coming up and the likelihood of Moody’s pushing us to a ‘negative watch’ rating is becoming more and more likely,” Standard Bank chief trader Warrick Butler said.

“Continued lower growth forecasts and increased debt. How much longer can the can be kicked down the well-trodden path?”

Statistics South Africa publishes June consumer inflation data at 0800 GMT.

Price growth has remained near the mid-point of the central bank’s target range of between 3% and 6%, and further low inflation could prompt it to add to last week’s 25 basis point cut, traders said.

Bonds inched higher, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year paper down 0.5 basis points at 8.065%.

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Jan Harvey)


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