December 17, 2015 / 7:18 AM / 2 years ago

South Africa's rand eases after U.S rate hike, stocks rise

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 17 (Reuters) - South Africa's currency weakened on Thursday after the United States central bank raised its key lending rate, while Moody's decision to change its outlook on Pretoria's credit rating to negative also pressured local assets.

By 0700 GMT the rand had weakened 0.27 percent to 14.9750 per dollar, giving up some of the gains of the previous two sessions sparked by the naming of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.

Government bonds firmed, with the yield on the benchmark paper due in 2026 shedding 12 basis points to 9.4 percent.

On the equities market, the benchmark Top-40 index opened up 1.3 percent at 44,305 points.

While markets had anticipated the 25 basis points rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve, emerging market assets still suffered, put under pressure by the hawkish tone of Fed Chair Janet Yellen's speech.

"After knee-jerk weakness the dollar has gained significantly," Rand Merchant Bank currency analyst John Cairns said in a note. "We suspect this will pressure USD/ZAR to the upside through the course of the day."

Yellen said further monetary tightening would be gradual and data-dependent, while pointing out an improved economy and labour market, raising the likelihood of more hikes in 2016.

Moody's cut its outlook on South Africa to "negative" from "stable" late on Tuesday, citing structural challenges in the mining industry and increasing political pressures on the budget.

In local data, South Africa's statistics agency publishes producer price inflation data for November at 0930 GMT. (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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