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

Johannesburg - South African stocks ended virtually unchanged on Wednesday as investors juggled concerns about the health of the global economy with views that a sharp sell-off in recent days has made some shares look like bargains.

African Bank Investments topped the decliners' list on the exchange as the nation's biggest unsecured loans lender warned of a sharp fall in half profits.

Shares in the company, whose loans rely solely on a customer's promise to back it back, dropped 4.77 percent to 10.59 rand.

Overall, investors chased after bargains following five straight sessions of sharp falls but the underlying mood remained largely bearish.

“The general sentiment is still very negative and investors are still quite concerned about emerging markets and that's not good news for us,” said Abri du Plessis, chief investment officer at Gryphon Asset Management in Cape Town.

“We've gone and hiked interest rates in the hope that will stabilise the rand, but the only thing I can see that is going to do is kill the economy even further.”

The benchmark JSE Top-40 index inched up 0.06 percent to 39,967.59 and the broader All-share index edged up by a similar margin to 44,477.18.

Both indices have fallen about 6 percent in the past seven sessions, hitting the oversold lines on technical charts such as the relative strength index, or RSI.

Vodacom was down 1.9 percent at 117.42 rand after the mobile phone operator said mobile phone reductions could cost it 1 billion rand in its 2015 fiscal year.

Also in the news, Sappi dropped 2.2 percent to 34.50 after the paper maker posted a one-third drop in quarterly profit.

Gainers included Steinhoff International, up 2.6 percent at 45.98 rand, recouping about 5 percent losses suffered in the past nine sessions.

Trade was active with more than 160 million shares changing hands.

Advancers outnumbered decliners 174 to 136 while 49 stocks were unchanged. - Reuters