Ramaphosa’s rand rally reverses as investors return to reality

The South African rand’s surge lasted only as long as it took Cyril Ramaphosa to get himself to the top of the nation’s ruling party.

Now that he has, the currency’s world-beating rally is losing steam, and derivatives markets suggest it’s vulnerable to a renewed selloff.

The rand has climbed 14 percent against the dollar since hitting a one-year low on Nov. 13, as investors bet that Ramaphosa would defeat his main rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in a tight race to take over the African National Congress and put himself in prime position to succeed Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s president in 2019.

The nation’s stocks and bonds rose on Tuesday, the day after Ramaphosa’s win in Johannesburg. But the rand hardly moved, suggesting investors want to see improvements to South Africa’s long-term prospects before increasing their exposure to an economy that’s barely growing and at risk of having its debt downgraded further into junk territory.

“The market has got ahead of itself as the victory of Ramaphosa does not spell the end of South Africa’s issues,” Guillaume Tresca, an emerging market strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris, said Tuesday. “It is facing a turbulent period in the near future, which will make its assets vulnerable. Moreover, the medium- to long-term outlook is still not positive for the rand.”

Tresca recommended shorting the currency against the dollar and targeting a 6.4 percent drop to 13.61.

These five charts show why the rand is looking vulnerable:

The price of derivatives allowing investors to benefit from a fall in the rand is going up. The premium of option contracts to sell the rand over those to buy the currency in the next three months, known as the 25 Delta risk reversal, has jumped more than 30 basis points in the past four days to a level higher than that of any major currency tracked by Bloomberg, including similarly-rated peers.

The rand’s implied volatility has plummeted since Ramaphosa’s victory. But its expected swings over the next month are still the highest among 23 major emerging currencies followed by Bloomberg. That makes it a risky bet for carry traders, who borrow in low-yielding currencies to invest in higher-yielding ones, typically those of developing nations. Adjusted for that expected volatility, the rand’s implied returns are lower than those of some of its closest peers such as the Mexican peso, Russian ruble and Turkish lira.

South Africa’s stock-surge hasn’t slowed down since the ANC announced Ramaphosa as its new leader. But that rally may be nearing its peak: the forward price-to-earnings ratio of the benchmark index has climbed to 12.2, only just below the level of MSCI’s emerging- and frontier-market indexes. Foreign investors have poured 12 billion rand ($940 million) into the country’s stocks in the first two weeks of December alone. As the shares get more expensive, those flows may slow, adding to pressure on the rand because South Africa relies on portfolio flows to help plug its current-account deficit.

The rand can’t count on policy support either, at least for now. After Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s bleak budget speech in October, the currency tumbled and investors almost immediately priced in rate increases by the central bank. That’s no longer the case. The gap between forward-rate agreements beginning in 12 months and the three-month Johannesburg Interbank Agreed Rate — seen as a signal of what interest-rate moves markets expect — all but closed on Tuesday, suggesting rates will stay flat over the next year.

Technical indicators are also signaling that a correction is due. The dollar’s 14-day Relative Strength Index versus the rand dropped below 30, the level showing that a currency is oversold. The last time this happened, in March, the rand plunged 11 percent in the following two weeks.

Read: Ramaphosa’s win a good start to fight junk status: Moody’s

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Ramaphosa’s rand rally reverses as investors return to reality