Rand slumps as election results trickle in

South Africa’s rand fell Thursday as initial forecasts for the general election showed a marked decline in support for the ruling African National Congress.

The currency dropped as much as 1.1% against the dollar to trade at 18.59 per dollar as of 8:50 a.m. in Johannesburg. The yield on local-currency bonds maturing in 2035 rose eight basis points to 12.13%.

South Africa’s ruling party looks set to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since it came to power at the end of apartheid three decades ago, a model developed by a state research agency shows.

The African National Congress is on course to win about 42% of the votes cast in Wednesday’s national election, according to projections from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which are based on an extrapolation of early tallies released by the South African electoral commission. That compares with 57.5% in 2019. 

The opposition Democratic Alliance had 26.3% of the early votes, while the populist Economic Freedom Fighters had 8.1%. uMkhonto weSizwe, or MKP, a new party headed by the country’s scandal-tainted former president, Jacob Zuma, had 7.6%.

South African markets had rallied in May on expectations that the next government would be headed by the ANC with a market-friendly coalition partner, signalling policy continuity. 

Opinion polls before the vote indicated that the ANC risked losing its majority and would have to enlist the support of one or more rivals to continue governing Africa’s most industrialized economy. 

Key parties in the mix include the Democratic Alliance led by John Steenhuisen, who promised two million new jobs, and the Economic Freedom Fighters under Julius Malema, which has advocated for increased corporate taxes and state custodianship of all land.

The Inkatha Freedom Party was seen as a likely coalition partner for the ANC, potentially in exchange for the premiership of KwaZulu-Natal.

Adding to the complexity is the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party, which has drawn support from Zuma, who remains influential in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa’s benchmark stock index, which was closed on Wednesday for the vote, has risen 3.4% in local currency terms this month, outperforming more than 60 national benchmarks worldwide. Higher commodity prices helped fuel the gains, and investors began pricing in a market-friendly election outcome. 

The nation’s local-currency bonds and dollar debt have also outperformed average returns in emerging markets in May, with South African debt trading on one of the steepest curves in the developing world.

Less than a quarter of respondents in a Bloomberg survey said they were underweight South African assets, despite opinion polls signaling a generational change in leadership with the ANC likely losing its majority.

Any incoming administration will face formidable tasks, including tackling high unemployment, restoring investor confidence, and stabilizing public finances to prevent further economic decline.


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