Rand and rupee at fresh 18-month highs as EM currency rally rolls on

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The rand extended its recent rally to hit its strongest level since July 2015 on Monday morning, as Donald Trump’s failure to get his flagship healthcare reforms through congress puts further pressure on the dollar.

EM investors have shrugged off local concerns – including president Jacob Zuma’s fight with his finance minister and repeated calls to take land from white landowners without compensation – to pile into the rand in recent weeks, helping the currency to strengthen around 6 per cent in March alone.

The currency strengthened as much as 0.85 per cent on Monday morning to 12.3188 per dollar. It has been the best-performing currency in the world over the last 12 months.

The stronger currency, which reduces the relative cost of imports into South Africa, has taken some pressure of the South African Reserve Bank to keep its interest rates high to fight inflation. The central bank has signalled it is “near the end” of its current cycle of rate rises, and economists are expecting it to keep rates on hold at its policy meeting on Thursday.

In Asia, the Indian rupee and Korean won were among the biggest EM beneficiaries of the dollar’s slide. Both strengthened 0.5 per cent on Monday, with the won touching its strongest level since October 2016 and the rupee at its strongest level since October 2015.

Analysts saw little sign that the trend will end any time soon, with Lee Hardman, currency analyst at MUFG, noting the dollar “is likely to remain offered for now with no obvious trigger to reverse current negative sentiment in the week ahead”.

The Russian rouble and Mexican peso were among the only EM currencies that failed to benefit, with both the currencies slipping as the price of oil fell.

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