South Africa's rand hits new low on bleak economic outlook


Updates to reflect afternoon trade

JOHANNESBURG, April 2 (Reuters) - South Africa's rand fell to a new all-time low against the dollar on Thursday, as analysts predicted a steep economic contraction and large budget deficit because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

At 1545 GMT, the rand ZAR=D3 was around around 2% weaker at 18.6000 per dollar, after earlier touching a new low of 18.6500.

South Africa has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, at 1,380.

It is heavily exposed to the disruption caused by the virus as a major exporter of commodities and has imposed some of the toughest restrictions on the continent, including a 21-day lockdown that began on Friday.

The toll on the economy, which fell into recession late last year, has already shown up in preliminary tax numbers.

BNP Paribas economist Jeffrey Schultz said in a research note that he had revised down his gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to a contraction of 4.0% this year.

He now expects a 9.1% of GDP budget deficit in the 2020/21 fiscal year that will compound worries over the country's public finances, which have been stretched by repeated bailouts to ailing state firms including power utility Eskom and South African Airways.

The yield on the government bond due in 2030 ZAR2030= rose 3 basis points to 11.190%.

On the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, strong gains for gold shares helped lift the main indices .JTOPI, .JALSH by more than 3%.

Gold Fields GFIJ.J was up 10.76% and AngloGold Ashanti ANGJ.J 11.02% higher, supported by a higher spot gold price XAU=.

Shares in telecom firm MTN Group MTNJ.J rose 12.59%, helped by signs Saudi Arabia and Russia may be ready to cooperate to stabilise the oil market after a slump in prices. MTN operates in a number of oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Iran.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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