JOHANNESBURG - The rand firmed against the dollar yesterday as the market positioned for the possible removal from office of President Jacob Zuma, while share prices hit a four-month low as the global stocks rout intensified.

At 5pm, the rand bid at R12.0277 to the dollar, 5.23c stronger than at the same time on Monday.

“Speculation about an imminent removal of President Zuma has intensified. His removal must surely now mostly be in the price but we would still expect a knee-jerk reaction when it transpires,” Rand Merchant Bank analyst John Cairns, said in a note.

The ANC has called a special meeting of its decision-making National Executive Committee for today, at which removing Zuma is expected to be discussed.

The speaker of parliament said yesterday the president’s state of the nation address, which had been scheduled for tomorrow, would be postponed, hinting at the growing pressure on Zuma to step down.

His scandal-plagued tenure has been seen as a weight on the economy, and the rand has tightened up to its firmest in over two years as the likelihood of his removal grew after Cyril Ramaphosa was elected party chief in December.

Government bonds also firmed, with the yield on the benchmark instrument due in 2026 down 3.5 basis points to 8.47percent.

On the bourse, the all share index weakened 1.29percent to 56377.21 points, while the JSE Top40 index declined 1.27percent to 49855.83 points, both to levels last seen in October 2017.

The equity market sell-off had been viewed by some as a healthy correction after a rapid run up over the last year, but as it snowballed through Asia and Europe and looked to be on its way back to Wall Street, nerves were starting to fray.

“While the fall in global equity markets looks dramatic, it is no more dramatic than the record rises we have seen since the end of November. For that reason alone many would argue a correction was on the cards,” said Jacob Deppe, head of trading at online trading platform Infinox in a note.

“The party may be over for now but this could be more of a sobering correction than a rout.”

Bourse heavyweight Naspers trimmed earlier losses, which saw it retreat 4.59percent, to close down 0.5percent to R3104.51.