Filomena Scalise

Johannesburg - South African stocks ended a touch lower on Tuesday, tracking major overseas markets on fears political gridlock in Italy could reignite the euro zone debt crisis.

African Rainbow Minerals was among the biggest losers on the benchmark index after the diversified mining firm posted a one-third drop in half-year earnings.

Shares in the nickel, coal, platinum and chrome miner ended 2.3 percent lower at R188.51.

Overall, investors took their cue from weaker global markets after Italy, Europe's most indebted state, faced a dangerous political vacuum after an election left no party clearly in control of its government.

Traders also refrained from making aggressive bets on South African equities ahead of the nation's 2013 budget statement on Wednesday.

“Some people don't want to put too much or take way too much ahead of the budget. There's some nervousness about what the minister will say about companies,” said Ryan Woods, a trader at Independent Securities.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will present the 2013 budget policy statement to Parliament at 12h00 GMT on Wednesday.

The benchmark JSE Top 40 index fell 0.6 percent to 35,143.65 and broader All-share index was off 0.55 percent at 39,568.28.

Hit by faltering commodity prices, bourse heavyweight Anglo American dropped 1.7 percent to R262.36 and rival BHP Billiton lost 1.2 percent to R280.90.

Imperial Holdings, South Africa's biggest auto dealer, topped the gainers' list ahead of its results on Wednesday, which are expected to show strong growth.

Retailers tentatively recouped some losses from a recent sell-off sparked by a spate of sales updates and results that did not justify their lofty valuations.

Woolworths picked up 0.5 percent to 69.16 rand and Truworths inched up 0.26 percent at R96.

Nearly 180 million shares traded, according to preliminary bourse statistics, with decliners outpacing advancers 184 to 102, while 70 shares were unchanged. - Reuters