Sydney - The South African rand sank on Monday by the most since October 2008.
The move had traders scratching their heads about whether it was an unintentional transaction, the impact of reduced liquidity conditions early in Asia or investors dumping assets tied to Chinese growth. South Africa sold 37 percent of its exports to China in 2014 and the two nations - along with Brazil, Russia and India - are part of the so-called Brics, a grouping of nations considered to show the growing influence of emerging economies.
“We unfortunately don’t have any major pinpoint reasoning as to what’s going on, but it’s very scary,” said Evan Lucas, a Melbourne-based market strategist at IG Ltd said by phone. “South Africa is so heavily tied to China in terms of what it does that, could it be another signal that there’s a risk off around a China hard landing?”
The rand declined 3.1 percent to 16.8271 as of 7.59am in Singapore after dropping to a record low of 17.9169. The intraday slide of 8.9 percent was the largest since October 2008, about a month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings.
South Africa’s currency plunged 25 percent against the dollar last year, the worst performance after Brazil’s real among major peers tracked by Bloomberg. The rand has hurt by a slump in commodity prices, lacklustre economic growth and rising interest rates in the US. Losses accelerated in December after President Jacob Zuma unexpectedly fired his finance minister, only to alter the decision days later.
“The huge spike in risk aversion last week, poor liquidity and position liquidation have hit the rand this morning,” said Robert Rennie, the global head of currency and commodity strategy at Westpac Banking Corporation in Sydney.
China on Friday ended an eight-day run of reductions to the yuan’s reference rate that sent shock waves through financial markets and escalated fears of a global currency war. The People’s Bank of China set the daily fixing, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2 percent on either side, at 6.5636 a dollar, 0.02 percent stronger than the previous day’s reference rate. It was cut 1.42 percent over the prior eight days.
“If China doesn’t show that it’s settling down this week, it will be a very, very dark period,” said Lucas.