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Rand edges higher as finance minister vows to avoid third downgrade

Stocks were a bit softer as investors booked some profits before the long Easter weekend which will see South African markets closed on Friday & Monday.

Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's rand firmed slightly on Thursday after new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba pledged to work to keep the country from a third credit downgrade to junk status.

Stocks were a bit softer as investors booked some profits before the long Easter weekend which will see South African markets closed on Friday and Monday.

Gigaba, who replaced the respected Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet reshuffle that triggered credit downgrades to sub-investment by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch, told local investors he would meet ratings firm Moody's to persuade it he will stay on the path of fiscal discipline.

By 1600 GMT the rand had added 0.20% to R13.4225 per dollar compared to a close of R13.4525 overnight in New York.

Gold producers also got a lift after the precious metal's spot price hit a five-month high on comments by President Donald Trump, who said he preferred lower interest rates and that the greenback was "too strong". Gold then pulled back but stayed on track for its best week since June.

Gold Fields leapt 6.6% to R55.51 while Sibanye Gold added 6.4%.

But overall, the benchmark Top-40 index ended down 0.22% at 46,644 points, while the broader All-share index closed 0.08% lower at 53,510 points.

"Volumes are very thin ... it would be a little bit of profit-taking ahead of the long weekend," said NorthShore Capital fund manager Mark Loubser.

In fixed income, the yield for the benchmark government bond due in 2026 fell 4.5 basis points to 8.825%.

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