South Africa’s rand hits 2-1/2 year high on bets on leadership change

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand on Thursday extended gains that have seen it soar to its firmest in two-and-a-half years, with investors believing a leadership change in the ruling party would spur an economic rebound.

At 0640 GMT the rand traded at 12.2650, inching 0.04 percent ahead in early trade following a more than 1 percent surge in the previous session that lifted it through a succession of key technical milestones.

Since Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president Jacob Zuma’s successor as head of the African National Congress (ANC) last Monday, the rand has gained close to 10 percent against the dollar, making it one of the best performing EM currencies.

Speculation that Ramaphosa, likely to become the country’s next president after elections in 2019, was readying to remove Zuma as state president in coming weeks has ignited further interest in the rand in recent sessions.

“The rand is the star of the week as media talk emerges of a possible ANC NEC motion against Zuma’s presidency already in January. The dynamics are clearly building and are likely to accelerate now that Ramaphosa has been elected as leader of the ANC,” said strategist at Legal & General Simon Quijano-Evans.

The currency has also been supported by higher commodity prices globally, and bets of interest rates remaining low for longer in the United States, marking the rand as an attractive carry trade.

Stocks were set to open slightly lower at 0700 GMT, with the JSE securities exchange’s Top-40 futures index down 0.12 percent.