Foreigners Sell Rand Assets at Record Pace as Eskom Woes Mount

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(Bloomberg) -- Foreigners are ditching South African assets at the fastest pace on record as concern mounts that the government will lose its last investment-grade rating.

Overseas investors have sold a net $4.8 billion of South African equities and bonds in 2019, the most on a year-to-date basis since at least 1998, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Outflows, particularly from fixed-income securities, have accelerated since the start of June as ratings companies and banks become more bearish about South Africa’s fiscal outlook.

Foreigners Sell Rand Assets at Record Pace as Eskom Woes Mount

The rand weakened 2.5% against the dollar last week, its worst performance since February, after Moody’s Investors Service warned that the government’s plan to double financial support for state power firm Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. was “credit negative.” Moody’s is the only major ratings company that still grades South African debt above junk.

Fitch Ratings Ltd. followed on Friday by cutting its outlook for Africa’s most industrialized economy to negative. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said the same day that a rally in the rand since the start of June was more to do with a supportive global environment than improvements in conditions locally.

“We now believe levels are stretched enough to enter outright rand shorts,” JPMorgan analysts including London-based Anezka Christovova and Robert Habib in New York said in a note. “South Africa’s fundamental picture remains very challenging with a ballooning fiscal deficit and structurally low growth.”

Citigroup Inc. recommended to clients on Monday that they short the rand against the Turkish lira. The Wall Street bank’s analysts see the latter strengthening about 7% versus the South African currency over the next three months.

Despite the outflows, demand among local investors is helping to prop up South Africa’s assets. The country’s main stock index has risen 11% in dollar terms this year, compared with the MSCI Emerging Market Index’s 8.2% gain. And while local bonds have sold off in the past week, they have still handed investors a dollar return of 7.4% in 2019.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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