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South Africa's rand firms on easing trade tensions, stocks down

(Updates prices, rewrites throughout)

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 13 (Reuters) - South Africa's rand firmed on Tuesday, helped by improved risk appetite on signs of easing trade friction after the United States said it would delay tariffs on some Chinese products and both sides agreed to continue talks.

Stocks closed slightly weaker, weighed down by the gold sector.

At 1535 GMT the rand was 1.0% firmer at 15.1525 per dollar.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said President Donald Trump's administration will delay 10% tariffs on certain Chinese products, including laptops and cell phones, that had been scheduled to start next month.

Riskier assets gained on the news, which was viewed as a significant concession in the trade conflict between Washington and Beijing.

Despite the improved global risk appetite, a souring local economic and political atmosphere remained a risk to the rand.

Worries about the impact on the economy of heavily-indebted state-owned energy firm Eskom and negative commentary from credit rating agencies, and an ongoing legal wrangle between President Cyril Ramaphosa and the anti-corruption ombudsman, have seen the rand shed nearly 7% in two weeks.

On Monday, Ramaphosa won the latest round of a legal battle with South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog, as a judge delayed implementation of findings linked to its claim that he misled parliament about a leadership campaign donation.

But the lingering charges have raised fears Ramaphosa may distracted from his pledge to revive stalling economic growth.

"The ongoing battle between the Public Protector and the president will continue to weigh on sentiment, further delaying investment decisions and putting more downside risks to our 0.5% growth for the year," RMB analyst Mpho Tsebe said in a note.

On the bourse, the Johannesburg All-Share index closed 0.32% weaker at 55,192 points, while the Top-40 index ended the day down 0.13% to 49,448 points.

Bullion stocks fell 8.98% as spot gold slipped on the trade news.

Among the fallers, Gold Fields was down 10.10% at 84.28 rand, Harmony Gold weakened 7.96% to 43.00 rand and AngloGold Ashanti dropped 7.89% to 292.54 rand.

Bonds firmed, with the yield on benchmark government paper due in 2026 down 7.5 basis points to 8.41%. (Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Tanisha Heiberg, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2019-08-13 17:40:48

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