May 31, 2018 / 7:11 AM / 5 months ago

Offshore investor interest in South African equities at risk as "Ramaphoria" wanes

* Foreigners net buyers of stocks in year so far

* Investor focus on economic growth recovery

* Crises in other EMs to weigh on sentiment

By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo

JOHANNESBURG, May 31 (Reuters) - South Africa needs tangible economic growth to entice more offshore investors to invest in its bourse after a good start to the year thanks to improved sentiment following the election on a new president, analysts said.

South Africa's economy has barely grown in the past decade with fiscal missteps and corruption contributing to weak business and consumer confidence.

Investor sentiment picked up after new President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to clean up poor governance that critics say beset the administration of his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who was forced by the ruling party to resign in February.

Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) data show that after three years of being net sellers of equities, foreigners have so far in the year to May 25 bought more stocks than they have sold, resulting in net purchases of 16 billion rand ($1 billion) versus net sales of 55 billion rand the same period last year.

Most of the purchases have been in the consumer services and financials industries, the data showed.

But the gains are at risk of being eroded as investors await to see evidence the economy is growing. JSE data already shows foreigners sold 1.8 billion rand in stocks last week after offloading nearly 11 billion rand the week before.

"We still haven't seen any real results of an improving economy. So (when) we see solid GDP numbers then we could see more international buyers stepping in," Nedbank Private Wealth Portfolio Manager Grant Gilbert said.

First-quarter GDP numbers are due for release on June 5.

Gilbert said contagion from political and economic crises in other emerging markets could also impact inflows going forward.

"Given the Italian crisis and the strengthening of the dollar, emerging markets will come under significant pressure and we are already seeing that this week," he said.

Italy's political crisis and rekindled fears of a trade war between Beijing and Washington knocked emerging stocks to a 5-1/2 month low on Wednesday.

Other analysts said the so-called "Ramaphoria", in reference to improved sentiment on Ramaphosa's election, was not enough on its own to lure more investors.

"One gets the feeling on the ground as a broker that perhaps foreign investors aren't as enthusiastic about South Africa," said Cratos Capital equities trader Greg Davies.

"Ramaphoria - as the media have got - seems to have waned and people are just reading us as another emerging market which is slightly out of favour."

$1 = 12.5478 rand Additional reporting by Patricia Aruo Editing by James Macharia and Toby Chopra

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