The reception area of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. File picture: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - South African stocks put in a third day of gains on Thursday, rising 0.22 percent on a surge by Aspen Pharmacare, after Africa's top generic drugmaker said it will buy medicines from US firm Merck to boost its global presence.

Johannesburg's rebound from last week's sell-off has mirrored global markets, which on Thursday were lifted by disappointing data that buoyed hopes the US Federal Reserve may leave its stimulus programme in place longer than expected.

Aspen jumped more than 6 percent to 210.14 rand, making it the biggest gainer of the day on the benchmark Top-40 index, on news it will pay $1 billion to acquire drugs and a plant from Merck, bulking up in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

“Aspen is an emerging market play on a very dynamic sector being the drug sector,” said Ryan Wibberley, an equities dealer at Investec Asset Management.

“I think what it does is it confirms Aspen as a superb deal maker when it comes to transactions in the drug space and particularly in emerging markets,” he said.

The Top-40 ended 0.22 percent higher at 34,655.32, more muted gains than the previous two sessions.

The wider All-share index added 0.35 percent to 39,083.31.

The Top-40 remains over 8 percent lower than its life high reached four weeks ago.

Shares of Cipla Medpro gained nearly 3 percent after it announced on Wednesday it will likely meet all regulatory conditions related to a $488 million takeover bid by India's Cipla by the June 28 target date.

Most gold producers declined again, sinking deeper into decade-lows, shrugging off modest gains in bullion's spot price to over $1,230 an ounce as analysts reckon it could still target levels around a $1,000 an ounce, which would devastate the South African industry.

Sibanye was the biggest loser among the top producers, losing over 2 percent to 6.85 rand.

Trade was active with almost 243 million shares changing hands, according to preliminary data from the Johannesburg exchange. Advancers and decliners were tied at 150 a piece.

A total of 55 shares were unchanged. - Reuters