Nationwide strikes hit the rand

About 11 000 National Union of Metalworkers members marched to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa's offices in Pretoria. (Gallo)

About 11 000 National Union of Metalworkers members marched to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa's offices in Pretoria. (Gallo)

Stocks have snapped two straight days of gains on Wednesday, with the rally grinding to a halt on the start of a strike by mining, transport and metal workers and renewed concern over the violence in Syria.

Africa's top bullion producer AngloGold Ashanti was the biggest blue-chip loser, shedding 3.91% to R135.20 as bullion's spot price fell almost 2%. Rival Gold Fields lost 0.66%.

But there were bright spots in the sector with Harmony Gold rising over 3% as investors found value in the shares, which have lost about 57% in the year to date – the biggest fall among South Africa's major bullion producers.

The strike by tens of thousands of gold miners that launched on Tuesday night was seen as eroding investor confidence in Africa's largest economy, which was hit by credit ratings downgrades in the past year, triggered in part by simmering labour unrest.

"The gold strikes are not at all good for sentiment. This is all you see in the international news about South Africa at the moment," said Abri du Plessis, chief investment officer at Gryphon Asset Management.

"But on a day like [Wednesday], we are much more driven by international sentiment.
Syria is the main story and this is why our big stocks are getting smashed," he said.

Global shares faltered as military strikes on Syria moved a step closer after Russia's President Vladimir Putin signalled a readiness to drop his opposition if Damascus were proven to have carried out a chemical weapons attack.

South Africa's bourse, which scaled record peaks last month, has been mirroring global markets in recent weeks.

Domestic fundamentals are hardly rosy, with the gold stoppage inflicting more damage on an economy already beset by strikes in other sectors.

Trade was relatively subdued, with 143.5-million shares changing hands, according to preliminary bourse data. Decliners outnumbered advancers 195 to 95 with 52 shares unchanged. – Reuters

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