Johannesburg - South African stocks ended lower on Friday, pulling away from the record peaks scaled in the previous session as the exodus from the country's struggling gold producers gained momentum.
Gold's spot price fell to a five-week low, heaping pressure on battered bullion firms such as Harmony Gold, which lost 6.50 percent to 35.55 rand.
The precious metal was heading for its weakest week in two months on prospects the United States would curb its stimulus soon and as fears of a US-led military attack on Syria receded.
South Africa's index of gold mining companies shed 2.45 percent, bringing its losses in the week to around 7.5 percent.
Aside from the spot price, South Africa's gold producers are also contending with labour woes.
Companies and unions this week signed two-year wage agreements after a three-day strike last week but the hardline AMCU union has said its members could still down tools.
The wage hikes of up to 8 percent agreed will also add to already crushing costs in an industry in a state of decline.
“I don't really consider South African gold shares to be 'investment grade', said Sasha Naryshkine, an analyst at Johannesburg-based private wealth manager Vestact.
Next week, all eyes will be on the US Federal Reserve, which may announce a cut in its $85 billion monthly bond purchases at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday - a scenario that would be more bearish for gold as it would take more of the shine off its safe-haven status.
“Next Wednesday is the key to everything for the gold price. It's a sentiment trade,” said Naryshkine.
Johannesburg's blue-chip Top-40 index lost 0.35 percent to 39,071.51.
The broader All-share index shed 0.34 percent to 43,602.64.
Outside of the gold sector, Aspen Pharmacare was a rare gainer on the Top-40 index, adding 1.9 percent to 269 rand as it maintained a rally sparked on Wednesday when it announced full-year earnings rose by over 20 percent and said it was planning a push into the lucrative Russian market.
On Friday the drug maker also announced it had secured over $2 billion in syndicated loans, giving it ammunition for the aggressive acquisition trail it is following.
Volumes eased from Thursday with around 165 million shares changing hands, according to preliminary bourse data. Decliners outnumbered advancers 175 to 113 with 52 shares unchanged. - Reuters