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Ignoring local events, the JSE all share index set a new high on Thursday, reaching an intraday peak of 52 101.34, having gained nearly 33 percent over 52 weeks. It closed the week a little lower at a still elevated 52 060.03.
The record came despite a string of downbeat events. These included the start of a strike by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA on Tuesday, a warning from Moody’s Investors Service that strikes were threatening the domestic economy and news that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene expects the economy will miss the government’s 2.7 percent growth target for the year.
Nene cited the prospect of higher interest rates and lower commodity prices, as well as persistent problems like the current account deficit (the gap between revenue from exports of goods and services and the import bill) and the budget deficit (the shortfall between government revenue and spending).
But the JSE focused entirely on the global stage where markets were all partying. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 17 000 for the first time on Thursday.
And CNN reported that European markets on the day “finished broadly higher with shares in Germany leading the region. The DAX is up 1.19 percent while France’s CAC 40 is up 1.02 percent and London’s FTSE 100 is up 0.72 percent”.
Also on Thursday, Bloomberg reported: “Emerging market stocks rose to a 16-month high as better-than-expected US jobs data boosted the outlook for exports from developing nations.”
Data released on Wednesday showed the US unemployment rate had fallen to 6.1 percent, which the BBC described as the lowest level since September 2008. That was the month when US investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering a debacle in the banking sector worldwide and ushering in a global recession.
CNN recorded the benchmark MSCI emerging market index had rallied by 6 percent since the start of the year. It noted stock markets in Turkey and Indonesia were up 14 percent in the year, while India had posted “a whopping 22 percent gain”. However, it issued a warning about the strong surge in emerging market stocks and identified four key risks.
The first was the continued tightening by the US Federal Reserve, which has cut back on market liquidity this year, thereby reducing the relative attractions of emerging market investments. The process will continue until later this year, cutting the supply of cheap money, which previously buoyed the flows to countries like South Africa where investment returns have been relatively high.
The second was the potential fallout from political events, particularly in Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil where crucial elections have still to play out. South Africa escaped attention. Fortunately the country’s reputation in this respect survived the recent elections unscathed.
The third risk CNN referred to related to “deep-seated economic challenges such as slowing growth, high inflation and a dependence on foreign capital” which it said “could return to haunt some emerging markets in the coming months”.
Here South Africa figured along with Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey, “dubbed the fragile five last year by Morgan Stanley because they have these risks in common. Little appears to have changed since,” CNN said.
The fourth risk was rising oil prices, which could dent global growth, particularly in oil-importing countries like South Africa. Events in Iraq, one of the world’s biggest producers, have put global oil supplies under threat.
This risk may be receding. Brent crude hit $115 a barrel last month, but Sapa reported on Friday: “Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August dipped 13c to stand at $110.87 a barrel approaching midday in London.” Still, unexpected geopolitical events mean oil prices are hard to predict.
None of these risks is new. The danger perhaps is that market players may suddenly wake up to the hazards.
By Thursday South Africa had been on the receiving end of R10.8 billion from abroad, which has flowed into local stocks and shares this year, well up on last year’s R1.1 billion. Despite this, the rand has been weak, trading at R10.7562 to the dollar at 5pm on Friday. How far would the currency fall in the event of an outflow?
The level may not matter to the JSE, where large dual-listed firms have proved excellent rand hedges. As long as the music lasts, market players will party on.