The rand unexpectedly raced to its firmest since the dismal October budget on Wednesday as investors hedged bets it will fall sharply when credit ratings decisions are announced on Friday.
Stocks snapped four sessions of gains as Naspers came off an all-time high.
At 1545 GMT the rand had firmed 0.81% to 13.85 per dollar, having traded as firmly as 13.83 shortly after the US currency was knocked to one-week low following disappointing durable goods data.
Traders said moves on rand would also be exaggerated by low volumes as markets in the United States wind down for the Thanksgiving holiday that will keep them closed until Monday.
“This move doesn’t seem as if it was based on much volume. It could be that people who had short-rand positions are closing them out in case a downgrade doesn’t happen on Friday,” derivatives broker at Tradition Futures Gillian van Heerden.
Thirteen of 25 economists surveyed by Reuters on Monday said at least one of the major rating agencies would cut South Africa’s local currency debt to “junk” in Friday’s reviews. That could trigger outflows from local bonds of more than R100 billion.
“People also don’t want to be caught with the wrong view where they cannot get out quickly,” said van Heerden.
Traders at London-based TD Securities said the market seemed complacent about rand risks and “skewed to optimism” on the downgrades and that a double downgrade would trigger a large fall in the currency.
But a cheaper rand could be an attractive buy before the ruling African National Congress chooses a new leader — and likely eventual successor to President Jacob Zuma — at a conference in December, they said.
In bonds, the yield for the benchmark paper due in 2026 was down 2.5 basis points to 9.405%.
On the bourse, the benchmark Top 40 Index was down 1% at 54 494 points, while the broader All-share index shed 0.8% to 60 751 points.
Bourse heavyweight Naspers, an e-commerce and publishing firm which owns a third of China’s TenCent, was the biggest loser among the blue-chips.
Naspers’ share price has doubled this year, tracking TenCent’s rise, and scaling new highs — most recently on Tuesday.
In the latest session, TenCent was down more than 3% in Hong Kong and Naspers shares declined 4.6% to R3 900.10.
Gold and platinum miner Sibanye-Stillwater was among the gainers after it announced a deal to exchange some of its surface assets for a 38% stake in DRDGold, valued at around R1.3 billion.