The rand posted its biggest decline in almost a month on Tuesday, which together with an oil price that surged to its highest level in 2019 may signal more bad news for SA consumers ahead of May’s elections.
SA’s currency has lost almost 2% since the last trading day before the long weekend, dragged down by disclosure of a R5bn emergency bailout for Eskom after a Chinese loan did not arrive on time.
The emergency rescue further highlighted risks posed to the economy by Eskom’s financial crisis, which saw public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan being forced to deny that the utility is on the verge of financial collapse.
The rand had dropped 1.15%, the biggest decline since March 27, to R14.3264/$ by 5.25pm. This made it the worst-performing emerging-market currency tracked by Bloomberg.
Since reaching its 2019 best of R13.2349/$ on January 31, it has lost 6% against its US counterpart. It was 0.55% weaker at R18.5057/£, while it had fallen 0.57% to R16.0353/€.
The rand’s decline was accompanied by a jump of as much as 0.8% in Brent crude oil, which could see motorists hit by another fuel hike, in addition to the 15% increase in 2019 so far.
Crude reached its highest level since November after the US decided to end a sanctions waiver on Iranian oil imports.
The price rose to $74.57 a barrel as the JSE closed on Tuesday, compared with $54.11 at the start of the year, as the US said it would demand that India, China, Japan and South Korea stop importing from Iran.
A weaker rand worsens the outlook for inflation by pushing up the cost of imported goods priced in dollars, such as oil.
The currency’s volatility and the potential to push prices higher has been one of the factors leading to the Reserve Bank remaining hawkish on interest rates as it seeks to keep inflation near the middle of its 3%-6% target range.
Movements in the currency and international oil prices indicate the petrol price may rise another 51c/l in May, according to the Central Energy Fund. That is more bad news for an economy that is struggling to grow and to make a dent in an unemployment rate of more than 27%.
Volatility in the rand could rise due to quiet trade, with subdued activity around the public holidays this week and next, said Mercato Financial Services analyst Nico du Plessis.
Government bonds declined on Tuesday, with the yield on the R186 note maturing in 2026 rising 8 basis points to 8.49%.