Trump’s tariff threat sparks JSE’s worst day in a month

Donald Trump’s unpredictable behaviour played havoc with SA’s markets, with the JSE posting its biggest drop in more than a month after the US president’s sudden threat to increase tariffs on Chinese imports sparked a fresh round of risk aversion.

The rand fell more than 1% over the weekend as emerging-market currencies, vulnerable to a slowdown in trade that hurts global growth, dropped in the wake of Trump’s tweets on Sunday, which caught traders off guard. Markets have been relatively calm in recent months on optimism that a breakthrough in US-China trade talks was on the cards.

“Trump’s tweet is a reminder that the global economy heavily influences SA, and in turn is heavily influenced by Trump,” said South African Institute of Race Relations chief economist Ian Cruickshanks.

The JSE’s all share index closed 1.05% weaker at 58,712.8 points, more than giving back Friday’s gains. That cut its 2019 rise to 11.33%, after dropping in 2018 by the most in a decade.

The local currency fell 14c over the weekend and was at R14.5066/$ as the JSE closed. It is 9.5% weaker since reaching its 2019 best on January 31.

The rand had been boosted by investor demand for higher-yielding assets in the wake of the US Federal Reserve’s decision to pull back from its intention to raise interest rates. 

Volatility in the rand has picked up ahead of Wednesday’s election, which promises to be the most hotly contested of the democratic era. One-week implied volatility was just above 17%, the most among emerging-market currencies, according to Bloomberg data.