February 11, 2019 / 12:38 PM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 2-South African rand hits near 3-week low as Eskom steps up blackouts

* Rand weakens more than 1 pct

* Stocks follow emerging-market shares higher (Adds stocks, latest prices)

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 11 (Reuters) - South Africa’s rand fell to its weakest in almost three weeks on Monday as state electricity firm Eskom stepped up controlled power cuts because of a shortage of generating capacity.

At 1456 PM, the rand was 1.12 percent weaker at 13.7675 per dollar, its softest level since Jan. 24, after Friday’s close of 13.6150.

“Load-shedding is never good, especially from a growth perspective. The weakness you’re seeing now is certainly linked to the power cuts. It will be interesting to see what the finance minister says next week about bailing out (state firms),” Unum Capital trader Michael Porter said.

Cash-strapped Eskom, which supplies 90 percent of the country’s electricity, resumed blackouts on Sunday. The previous ones had been in early December.

It said on Monday it would increase the power cuts from the national grid to 4,000 megawatts from 2,000 megawatts after six of its generating units unexpectedly went off line, and that outages would probably last until 2000 GMT.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday he planned to split Eskom into three separate entities in a move to avert a financial crisis that ratings firms have warned poses a major risk to the country’s sovereign rating.

Investors, however, seemed unconvinced and by Friday had upped bearish bets on the currency, with the premium on options to sell the rand jumping to around one-month highs.

“We see potential for the rand’s further depreciation in the next few sessions,” Juri Kren, an analyst at Continuum Economics, said in a note.

Bonds also suffered on Monday, with the yield on the benchmark paper due in 2026 adding 12.5 basis points to 8.780 percent, its highest since Jan. 30.

In the equities market, stocks followed emerging markets after a move higher in major Asian markets as they returned from the Lunar New Year holiday propped up emerging-market shares on Monday.

The Johannesburg All-Share index rose 0.69 percent to 53,608 points, while its top-40 index climbed 0.47 percent to 47,225 points.

Market heavyweight Naspers closed 1.34 percent higher to 3,030 rand, while mobile telecoms providers Vodacom and rose 1 percent and 0.51 percent respectively.

Bucking the upward trend, clothing and food retailer Woolworths closed 3.29 percent weaker after the sudden resignations of its two non-executive directors. (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Nqobile Dludla; editing by John Stonestreet and Ed Osmond)

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