* Stocks barely change amid profit taking (Updates figures, fresh quotes, adds stocks)
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 20 (Reuters) - South Africa’s rand rose on Wednesday, buoyed by as positive sentiment from the election of ruling party leader Cyril Ramaphosa.
Stocks were barely changed as investors took profits from shares that climbed on the back of Ramaphosa’s victory, while Steinhoff dropped sharply in the wake of more bad news in the aftermath of the firm’s accounting irregularities.
Ramaphosa, who is South Africa’s deputy president, was elected the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC) on Monday, succeeding President Jacob Zuma - whose presidency has been tainted with corruption allegations - as party head.
Expectations that Ramaphosa would win the ANC race had pushed the rand to 12.5200 per dollar on Monday, its firmest since March 27, before a cabinet reshuffle by Zuma rocked markets and triggered credit ratings downgrades to “junk”.
By 1525 GMT on Wednesday, the rand was up 0.2 percent 12.6550 per dollar, just off its nearly nine-month highs scaled earlier this week.
“It is still just optimism about the elective conference,” said chief currency dealer at TreasuryOne Wichard Cilliers, referring to the five-day ANC meeting to elect new officials.
However further gains have been held back by investor fears that Ramaphosa may not be able to push through policy changes because the ANC’s top decision making group, known as the “Top Six”, was split down the middle, consisting of three politicians apiece drawn from Ramaphosa’s camp and that of his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“Uncertainty about the political course remains correspondingly high and the ZAR (rand) is fragile,” said Commerzbank analysts in a note.
In fixed income, the yield on the benchmark government bond due in 2026 rose 5 basis points to 8.615 percent, reflecting weaker bond prices.
On the bourse, the benchmark Top-40 index closed unchanged at 51,269 points while the All-Share index dipped 0.24 percent to 58,032 points. “Some of the banks have run up quite a lot so in the short term you might see a little bit of profit taking,” said Afrifocus securities portfolio manager Ferdi Heyneke
The banking sector fell 2.2 percent, with Barclays Africa down 5.31 percent to 181.10 rand and Standard Bank falling 3.35 percent to 191.26 rand after the sector rallied on Monday as investors priced-in a Ramaphosa win.
Further losses came from South African listed Steinhoff as the stock fell 34.00 percent to 4.62 rand after the firm said it had started to lose credit lines from lenders and was still unable to determine the scale of accounting irregularities. (Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by James Macharia)