UPDATE 1-South African stocks fall on weaker metals prices

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JOHANNESBURG, Aug 5 (Reuters) – South African stocks fell on Thursday, led by mining companies as gold fell to test the pivotal $1,800 support level after hawkish comments from a key Federal Reserve official raised early tapering bets.

The Johannesburg All-Share index slipped 0.76% while the Top 40 index declined 0.88%. The mining index dropped 3.59% led by Harmony Gold, Royal Bafokeng Platinum, Sibanye-Stillwater and Northam Platinum down 4.53%, 4.08%, 3.99% and 3.97% respectively.

Spot gold was down 0.36% to $1,804.84 per ounce, while platinum fell 1.52% by 1620 GMT.

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Richard Clarida said conditions for an interest rate hike could be met in late 2022, setting the stage for a move in early 2023.

Clarida also suggested the U.S. central bank could start cutting back on its asset purchase programme later this year.

Higher interest rates raise the opportunity cost of holding non-interest bearing gold.

Among other notable decliners was paper and packaging group Sappi, down 5.99%, after it said the impact of violent protests in KwaZulu-Natal province was expected to shave $16 million off fourth quarter core profit.

Bucking the downward trend was department store chain Woolworths Holdings, up 5.30% after the owner of Australia’s David Jones stores said it expects its full year headline earnings per share to rise as much as 215%.

In the currency market, the rand traded at 14.3744 to the dollar, marginally down 0.06% from its previous close, and down from a three-week high of 14.2275 hit on Wednesday, also reacting to the hawkish Fed official’s remarks.

Higher U.S. interest rates subdue the appeal of riskier but high-yielding currencies such as the rand.

Market focus was on U.S. non-farm payroll numbers due on Friday. The data is an important parameter to determine the Fed’s future policy stance.

“Markets are likely to remain cautious ahead of the much-anticipated (non-farm payroll) data tomorrow,” Nedbank analysts wrote in a note.

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