19/04/2010 A generic pic of the JSE board at Sandton JHB. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - South African stocks edged lower on Wednesday as index heavyweight MTN Group retreated after the mobile operator's full-year profit fell short of expectations.

After big gains in the previous session - when a record high on Wall Street helped stoke enthusiasm in Johannesburg - investors were taking a more cautious tack, market players said.

“MTN's results were definitely worse than expectations,” said Abri du Plessis, chief executive of Gryphon Asset Management in Cape Town.

“If you look at the past month, profit announcements by most companies locally were quite a bit of a disappointment. It tells you the economy is not in a great shape.”

The benchmark Top-40 index fell 0.38 percent to 35,928.34.

The index rose nearly 2 percent in the previous session, its best performance in two months, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average set a new record.

The broader All-share index dropped 0.27 percent to 40,437.25.

MTN Group, Africa's largest telecom, fell 1.3 percent to 177.33 rand. The company reported a 2 percent rise in full-year earnings, well below market expectations, as currency swings ate into its bottom line.

Shares of MMI Holdings rose 2 percent to 23.20 rand after the insurer boosted its first-half earnings and dividend by 16 percent, helped by a strong performance in its equity portfolio.

Shares of another insurer, Discovery Ltd, could move on Thursday. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange said after the close of trade that Discovery will replace retailer Mr Price in its benchmark Top-40 index from March 18.

Funds that track the performance of the Top-40 will likely need to buy replace Mr Price shares with those of Discovery.

Trade was active, with 213 million shares changing hands according to preliminary data.

A total of 153 shares advanced, 131 declined and 77 were unchanged. - Reuters