PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s current account deficit widened sharply in the third quarter of this year, central bank data showed on Tuesday, signaling further pressure on the rand currency as markets brace for higher U.S. interest rates.
The current account gap has traditionally been partly financed by portfolio inflows but these have waned this year as investors expecting the U.S. Federal Reserve to start tightening monetary policy dumped emerging markets.
The current account gap expanded to 4.1 percent of GDP in the third quarter of 2015 from 3.1 percent in the second, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) said in its December quarterly bulletin.
Economists polled by Reuters had reached consensus on a 4 percent current account shortfall in the third quarter.
Imports rose more strongly than exports during the quarter, leading to a 14 billion rand ($960 million) shortfall in the trade balance following a surplus of the same margin previously, the bank said.
Investment into local stocks and debt had tapered off sharply to 11.8 billion rand in Q3 from 54.8 billion rand in the prior quarter.
"Non-resident investment in South African equity and debt securities was more than offset by the acquisition of foreign portfolio assets by South African investors," the SARB added.
The rand, which has weakened more than 20 percent against the dollar this year, was largely stable after the central bank report.
The SARB said spending in the economy, which narrowly avoided a recession in the third quarter and is expected to grow just 1.5 percent in 2015, ticked up by an annualised 0.8 percent during Q3 after contracting by 7.2 percent previously.
Government spending rose at a slightly faster pace of 1 percent compared with 0.4 percent in the second quarter.
This offset a moderation to 0.9 percent from 1.2 percent in household spending growth, due to a slowdown in real income expansion, and persistently low consumer confidence levels.