By Vuyani Ndaba
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand will be relatively stable against the dollar for the rest of 2017 as the impact of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s shock dismissal and a credit rating cut to “junk” is already priced in, a Reuters poll found on Thursday.
The rand <ZAR=D3> is expected to weaken from a current 13.7375 per dollar to 14.00 in 12 months’ time, 8 cents firmer than last month’s median. In six months, the rand is expected to firm to 13.5 per dollar.
That follows a near 7 percent sell-off last week triggered by President Jacob Zuma’s abrupt decision to recall Gordhan from a trip to London and sack him, then put into full swing by the subsequent ratings downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.
The rand has nevertheless been more resilient than in 2015 when Zuma sacked then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and replaced him with a relatively unknown minister, analysts noted.
“One has to remember that Nene-gate was a total shock. It came out of the blue,” said Hugo Pienaar, economist at the Bureau for Economic Research. “Whereas what has happened now, both the reshuffle and the ratings downgrade were not totally unexpected; to an extent they have been discounted.”
Indeed, two Reuters polls published last year had already found most analysts expected a ratings downgrade to junk, most likely by S&P, by the end of 2016.
In the week of Dec. 9 2015, after Nene’s dismissal, the rand lost over 10 percent of its value against the dollar. But last week, the rand fell by less.
About this time last month, the rand was comfortably leading the pack of 20 emerging market currencies tracked by Reuters. But it has dropped to fourth spot since last week’s turmoil.
Zuma has replaced Gordhan with Malusi Gigaba and the ruling African National Congress says it has confidence in him and that he will retain policies set under the outgoing minister, seen by investors as a totem of policymaking stability in South Africa.
However, Pienaar warned the market could take different view if other agencies also downgrade the country’s ratings.
Moody’s, which grades South Africa two notches above junk status with a negative watch, is currently reviewing its rating. Fitch, which also has South Africa on negative watch but just one step away from junk, has not set a date for its next review.
HANGING ON EMERGING MARKET SENTIMENT
Like emerging market peers, South African assets have rallied since last year. That is based in part on better terms of trade this year due to a pick-up in emerging market growth and expectations the Federal Reserve will raise U.S. interest rates only three times in this cycle.
Piotr Matys of Rabobank said assuming the Fed raises rates gradually in the second half of the year, and once political tension subsides in South Africa, the rand may be able to trim some of its losses.
A Reuters poll taken last month after the Fed lifted rates for the second time in three months, showed Wall Street’s top banks see two additional rate rises this year. Most expect at least three more in 2018. [FED/R]
But Pienaar said: “I don’t buy this Trump story that he is going to be able to do a big fiscal stimulus … I think the Fed will remain quite cautious and not be overly aggressive.”
Other strategists however have said the market is just hanging onto the global risk rally, and that political developments in South Africa could still shake the rand.
(Editing by Catherine Evans)