SA stocks hampered by Euro malaise

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South Africa's blue-chip stock index will climb just another 2 percent by the end of the year, performing worse than other major emerging economies because of the country's reliance for much of its trade on Europe, where growth is grinding to halt.

Africa's biggest economy is struggling to gain traction after a 2009 recession, but room for stimulus at home is limited by concerns about inflation, especially as the rand currency weakened.

This leaves the country reliant on a recovery of demand from abroad, something very much still in doubt as European policymakers have yet to convince markets that they have got the continent's debt crisis, raging for nearly three years, firmly under control.

The Johannesburg Top 40 index has already rallied close to 6 percent from the start of the year and will rise a bit more to 30,750 by year-end according to the survey of 10 analysts. It was trading at around 30,214 on Friday.

But, as with the most recent outlook for many other stock markets around the globe, these end-year forecasts were lower than a similar poll in March, which predicted the index would close 2012 at 33,000.

It was also significantly behind other major developing economies like Brazil and India, whose stock markets are expected to rally 24 percent and 10 percent respectively by the end of the year.

Analysts say much will depend on major trading partner Europe, where about a quarter of South Africa's exports go.

“Hopefully Europe will by the end of the year sort out their financial and political issues and thus hopefully we not going to have further downward revision in economic growth,” said Wilmar Buys, a trader at FFO securities.

European leaders at a summit last week made available rescue funds that could be used to lower government borrowing costs for Spain and Italy.

That gave some hope that Europe may manage to steady itself, although the latest purchasing managers' indexes suggested the biggest economies are in recession or heading there.

An expected firming in the South African rand toward the end of the year may also make stocks more attractive to investors looking for additional return.

In the Reuters Econometer for South Africa published on Thursday, for the first time since January economists nudged down their gross domestic product growth forecast for 2012, to 2.7 percent from 2.8 percent.

The central bank has kept interest rates steady for the past 18 months at three decade lows. However it has pledged that its primary focus is to maintain price stability and the latest forecast is that rates will stay flat to year-end, even with the prospect of slowing growth.

This is a frequent source of contention with unions who have called for nationalisation of the bank and the change of its mandate from inflation targeting to job creation.

That leaves South Africa looking abroad for growth prospects.

On Thursday, the European Central Bank cut its refinancing rate by 25 basis points and its deposit rate to zero.

The Bank of England said it would print another 50 billion pounds of money to inject into the economy and China's central bank unexpectedly slashed rates for the second month in a row.

But none of these central bank moves did much to push stock markets higher as the focus has shifted to a dimming global economic outlook.

Reuters polled Africa's big banks, independent analysts as well as international participants. Several Africa-based equity analysts and strategists in major global banks who participated in the wider poll declined to give forecasts for the Top 40. -Reuters


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