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Bets on for rate cut

Economy

Cape Town - Traders are adding to bets on the first South African rate cut in more than four years after data showed the current-account deficit, a key risk for the rand, narrowed and consumer inflation slowed for a second month.

Forward-rate agreements starting in December fell seven basis points to 7.03 percent on Wednesday, 30 basis points lower than the benchmark three-month Johannesburg Interbank Agreed Rate, suggesting traders see the central bank’s policy rate falling this year. The rand and government bonds gained, while stocks fell after the S&P 500 Index tumbled the most since Donald Trump’s election on Tuesday.

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Consumers have been facing food price increases significantly higher than the rate of inflation.

South Africa relies on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to help fund the current-account gap, which swelled to 6.9 percent of GDP in 2013. A smaller shortfall relieves pressure on the rand, which may extend gains after reaching a 19-month high against the dollar on Tuesday, according to Treasuryone. That may cap the cost of imports, further slowing inflation and enabling the central bank to ease policy for the first time since August 2012.

“The batch of South African data published today will have provided welcome relief for the central bank,” William Jackson, a senior emerging-markets economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London, said in a note. “The narrowing of the current account deficit and fall in core inflation reinforce our view that the Reserve Bank will loosen monetary policy this year in order to support the weak economy.”

Read also: How South Africans are dealing with inflation

The current-account shortfall narrowed to 1.7 percent of gross domestic product in the fourth quarter, less than the median forecast of 3.2 percent, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Consumer inflation slowed to 6.3 percent in February from a year ago, in line with expectations.

The rand gained 0.8 percent 12.5875 per dollar by 3:12 p.m. in Johannesburg, one of only four emerging-market currencies to strengthen on Wednesday. Yields on government rand bonds due December 2026 fell eight basis points to 8.38 percent, the lowest since November 2015, while the benchmark FTSE JSE Johannesburg All Share Index dropped 1.7 percent.

“The rand takes its cue from the international front, but the current-account data has helped today,” Wichard Cilliers, a trader at Treasuryone, said by phone from Pretoria. The currency may breach 12.50 per dollar in coming months for the first time since August 2015, he said.

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