(Adds detail, fresh quotes, gives background)
JOHANNESBURG, March 20 (Reuters) - South Africa’s rand rose to its strongest level in 19 months on Monday, extending gains to the fourth straight session as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s less hawkish-than-expected comments continued to drag the U.S. dollar lower.
The rand traded 0.51 percent firmer at 12.65 per dollar, a level last seen in early August 2015.
Locally, the focus this week will be on fourth-quarter current account data and monthly consumer inflation, both due out on Wednesday.
“We expect a current account deficit that could come close to 3.2 percent of GDP. That is very supportive for a strengthening currency,” said Rand Merchant Bank economist Isaah Mhlanga.
A Reuters poll of 16 economists expects South Africa’s fourth quarter current account deficit to narrow to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product compared with 4.1 percent the previous quarter.
On the bourse, stocks ended higher with Naspers topping the gainers’ list on the blue-chip index ahead of quarterly results from its Chinese money spinner, Tencent Holdings.
The blue-chip Top-40 index gained 0.44 percent to 45,507 and the broader All-share index added 0.4 percent to 52,753.
Naspers, South Africa’s biggest company by market value, rose 3.3 percent to 2,291.20 rand. Naspers owns about a third of Tencent, which is due to report its fourth quarter results on Wednesday.
In fixed income, government bonds weakened with the yield on 2026 benchmark up 0.6 basis points at 8.456 percent. (Reporting by Olwethu Boso & Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)