South African rand slumps as power crisis takes centre stage

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The South African rand slumped on Monday as investor concerns mounted over a power crisis that prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to cancel a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The struggling state power utility last week ramped up power cuts to their worst-ever level, meaning most South Africans are without power for at least six hours a day and often more.

The South African rand traded at 17.0350 against the dollar at 1711 GMT, about 1.11% weaker than its previous close. It earlier in the day hit its weakest since Dec. 13.

"What we're seeing right now is potentially a realisation of the ramifications of where we are with Eskom and also a bit of unwinding in the USD-ZAR shorts that were on," said Quinten Bertenshaw, executive director of ETM Analytics.

Recent strengthening in the rand had been a "dollar play", he said, adding, "we haven't broken any key technical levels as yet. I think the first big level that I would worry about that would signal a reversal for me, would be closer to the 17.20 mark."

Eskom said in a statement on Monday it would shorten power cuts from Tuesday morning, as 14 generators come back on tap this week.

South African bank notes featuring an image of former South African President Nelson Mandela are displayed at an office in Johannesburg, File. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

However, two opposition parties that had been present at a meeting with Eskom officials over the weekend said they had been told outages would persist well into next year.

Wichard Cilliers, chief dealer at TreasuryONE, said rand moves on Monday were exacerbated by thin liquidity due to U.S. markets being closed.

"The rest of the emerging market space has also been under pressure but the rand is leading the way as load-shedding and the cost to the economy is worrying investors," he said, using a term for power outages.

Shaun Murison, senior market analyst at IG, said softer prices for South African exports were also weighing on the rand.

Later this week South African mining output (ZAMNG=ECI) and retail sales (ZARET=ECI) for November are due, as well as December consumer inflation (ZACPIY=ECI).

On the stock market, the Top-40 (.JTOPI) and the broader all-share (.JALSH) indexes closed 0.2% lower.

The South African government's benchmark 2030 bond was weaker, with the yield up 8.5 basis points to 9.850%.

Reporting by Alexander Winning, Rachel Savage and Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alex Richardson

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