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

Johannesburg - South African stocks edged lower on Wednesday as investors hit mobile operators MTN and Vodacom after the communications regulator said it would cut some fees they can charge their rivals.

Sentiment was also bruised after the central bank hiked its benchmark rate by half a percentage point, increasing concern that cash-strapped consumers would come under further pressure.

Shares of MTN, Africa's largest mobile provider, dropped 4.2 percent to 196.50 rand while Vodacom declined 4.4 percent to 116.95 rand.

The communications regulator said it would halve the costs they can charge rivals to use their networks from March, to increase competition in the industry.

The move is likely to benefit smaller players such as Telkom SA at the expense of MTN and Vodacom.

“It's probable that the smaller operators are going to become more aggressive on pricing in the next three years as they are going to have a bigger advantage,” said Greg Cort, an analyst at asset manager Electus.

The benchmark Top-40 index fell 0.27 percent to 40,974.52.

The broad All-Share index gave up 0.35 percent to 45,564.62.

South Africa on Wednesday raised its benchmark rate by half a percentage point to 5.5 percent, keeping in step with attempts by Turkey and other emerging markets to shore up their battered currencies.

But the move also increased worries about pressures on consumer spending.

Grocer Shoprite fell 2.7 percent to 145.50 rand while clothing retailer Truworths dropped 1.9 percent to 74 rand.

Shares of world No. 1 platinum producer Anglo American Platinum rose 5.2 percent to 458 rand, their biggest one-day gain since September, after the world's top platinum producer reported a 25 percent rise in quarterly production.

Separately, Amplats and two of its smaller rivals made a revised wage offer to striking miners.

The mineworkers union is due to put the offer to its members on Thursday following the conclusion of government-brokered talks to end the crippling strike.

Trade was active with 262 million shares changing hands.

Decliners outnumbered advancers, 184 to 127 with 42 shares unchanged. - Reuters