Rand breaks through R13.20/$ as SA shows little chance of following suit on rates

The rand extended a slump after breaching R13 per US dollar for the first time since December as investors bet there’s little chance the SA Reserve Bank will follow emerging-market peers in raising interest rates.

Turkey on Thursday became the latest emerging-market central bank to deliver a surprise rate increase as currencies sag. The SARB, which targets inflation and has often stated it won’t act to bolster the rand, left its benchmark rate unchanged last month. The worst quarterly economic contraction in nine years suggests it won’t tighten anytime soon, according to Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

“Rand weakness reflects a broad re-pricing of emerging-market assets within a context of rising US interest rates,” said Win Thin, the firm’s global head of emerging-markets strategy. “This latest bout of rand weakness was triggered by the much weaker-than-expected first-quarter GDP report.”

The rand weakened 1.8% to R13.25 to the dollar by 10:17 on Friday. At 13:29, it was trading at R13.14/$.

The rout started earlier in the week with weaker-than-expected economic growth numbers and as emerging markets fell out of favour. On Thursday the local unit dropped to its worst level since December 15, days before Cyril Ramaphosa won the leadership of the African National Congress, putting him on course for the presidency.

The currency’s decline worsened after the drop in Brazil’s real dampened sentiment toward risky assets, driving losses on a gauge that tracks emerging-market currencies to the most in more than a week.

With the Federal Reserve proceeding with policy tightening, and another interest-rate hike expected next week, emerging markets across the globe are bracing for a further selloff. Turkey joined Indonesia and India in raising rates.

The SARB's policy is to let the currency float freely, and it didn’t take action during bouts of currency weakness in the past two decades.

The GDP report this week showed that South Africa’s economy shrank the most in nine years in the first quarter, casting a pall over Ramaphosa’s promise to boost growth. His rise to power since December initially boosted sentiment and the rand following former president Jacob Zuma’s scandal-ridden tenure, but confidence indexes have now returned to where they were late last year as businesses seek lasting change.

After standing pat on the main policy rates last month, the central bank hinted that further loosening was off the table as inflation pressures build. Money markets are pricing in only 12 basis points of tightening over the next 12 months.

“It is clear that the economy is in a fragile state and it may take some time before we see any evidence of a Ramaphosa effect,” said Natalie Rivett, a senior emerging-markets analyst at Informa Global Markets in London.

The rand is down over 3% this week, heading for the worst since the five days through May 18. The yield on government debt due 2026 climbed 6 basis points to 8.87%. Yields have climbed 26 basis points this week.

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