South Africa’s net foreign reserves rose to $45.470 in April from $44.774 billion in March, Reserve Bank (SARB) data showed on Friday, reflecting a rise in global gold prices amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gross reserves also increased, to $53.003 in April from $52.458 billion previously. The forward position, representing the central bank’s unsettled or swap transactions, decreased to a balance of $592 million in April after a positive balance of $631 million previously.
“The increase in the gross reserves and the international liquidity position mainly reflects the increase in the US dollar gold price and valuation adjustments due to foreign currency and asset price movements,” the bank said in a statement.
The price of gold is up around 15% since mid-March, with the safe-have asset sought by investors in times of crisis and falling returns in other financial assets like bonds, equities and currencies. On Friday gold traded at $1,717.49 per ounce.
South Africa’s economy was built on gold exports, and it remains among the top bullion producers globally despite harder- to-extract deposits, labour unrest and policy uncertainty over ownership denting activity in the recent decade.
Two credit ratings downgrades in April, tipping Africa’s most advanced economy into full junk status, along with weak growth and widening deficits have exacerbated capital outflows with foreign investors especially nervous.
Sales of local stocks and bonds are close to R100 billion ($5.42 billion) year-to-date, with some analysts expecting capital outflows to step up due to forced selling after the country fell out of the World Government Bond Index (WGBI).
In March, emerging economies suffered sharp outflows as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and an oil price shock, with investors pulling a record $83.3 billion from developing stocks and bonds, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF).
“The sovereign’s sub-investment grade rating will reduce the attractiveness of the country’s assets and potentially undermine foreign capital inflows,” analysts at Nedbank said in a note.
“However, some large once-off increases in foreign exchange reserves are expected in the coming months, when government receives its R95 billion foreign loan sourced from the IMF, the BRICS bank and the World Bank.”
The boost to South Africa’s foreign exchange reserves provided by gold, as well as high yields on government bonds, has set it apart from emerging market peers like China, Brazil and Turkey, which have been willing to sell dollars to ease volatility and currency weakness.
The SARB has consistently ruled out this option.
“Looking ahead, with SARB not actively building its buffers, changes in SA’s reserves remain a function of the oscillations in the market value of gold and currencies,” said Quinten Bertenshaw, executive director at ETM Analytics.